The Tiny House of Your Dream is Actually a Nightmare
May 27, 2017 11:00 AM   Subscribe

"I thought [living in an RV] would be a perfect Instagram scenario -- I'd be naked, wrapped in an American flag with my hair blowing in the wind, with people taking my photo" "Justin, who lives in a tiny house in Portland, OR (of course), talks frankly about what he has to do without. "I really miss having a washer/dryer. That kills me," he says. And since he and his girlfriend cook all the time, not having a dishwasher or a ton of counter space is a real problem. "I see tiny houses with mini-fridges and a two-burner stove top with no oven. And I think, 'what the hell do you cook?'"

Link dump:

Five Reasons the Tiny House Movement is Doomed to Fail

Dear People Who Live in Fancy Tiny Houses

Teeny house, big lie: Why so many proponents of the tiny-house movement have decided to upsize

People Who Abandoned Their Tiny Homes

Why We Won't be Living in our Tiny House

“The World is my Backyard”: Romanticization, Thoreauvian Rhetoric, and Constructive Confrontation in the Tiny House Movement

Tiny houses, while still bound to forms of privilege, hold potential to be what some social science researchers have seen as best practice. Practices that link the practicality of realism with the zeal of romanticism can contribute to what has been found to be a positive correlation between conscious consumption and political activism.
posted by mecran01 (118 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
 
Cramped dwellings also take their toll, research shows, on our physical and mental health.

“Everybody needs their space,” Kopec says. A lack of space has been linked to depression, alcoholism and poor school performance in children.

“When you start going with tiny spaces, including attics and basements where there is poor light and ventilation, you are really getting into the whole reason we started having standards in the 19th century in the first place,” Saegert says. In the late 1800s, community leaders realized that tuberculosis – and an epidemic of misery – was spreading rapidly among workers living in packed, crumbling tenement housing, and set about upgrading standards. More recently, a Australian study published in 2000 found that, even accounting for poverty, the risk for a child to contract meningitis was 10 times higher if he or she lived in an overcrowded home.


Everyone who is all "I am so green and have a micro house" always makes me want to skywrite the entire text of "A Room of One's Own" over their town. Privacy and space are important for a just society where people have the chance to grow in health and intellect. There's nothing wrong with a small house, or having only as much space as meets your needs, but the idea that it's virtuous to live in the smallest space possible is silly. Spaceship Earth, yeah, but more like a clever Le Guinian Hainish ship than some kind of sixties hellscape population explosion one.
posted by Frowner at 11:13 AM on May 27 [63 favorites]


I feel like this is another instance of Americans' slightly unhinged all-or-nothing thinking. Like, there is a middle ground between living in a McMansion and living in a repurposed shipping container. But you don't get virtuosity points for living in a modest-but-not-tiny house or a good-sized apartment/ condo, so nobody makes blogs and documentaries about that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:15 AM on May 27 [169 favorites]


"Small houses" are a symptom of young singles and couple's inability to afford the white picket fence in the suburbs. Or heck even a 700 sq ft, 1-bedroom condo in a boring concrete tower. "I am so green and have a micro house", that's putting lipstick on the pig. At least with the mobile home small house you get to put your own stamp inside and out and you get away from renting at least the dwelling if not the land.

Just don't buy a shipper container. It may look cool, but living in a tin can anywhere is rains, or worse snows, is almost a recipe for misery. Stick building from scratch will almost always be better and cheaper.
posted by bonehead at 11:24 AM on May 27 [23 favorites]


Good. All you brave young hipsters who are now having children and deciding you NEED three bedrooms and a two car garage can dump your tiny houses with twee organic farms, and maybe once you've glutted the market, crones like me who hate 'things' and will never have children can afford them. It's win-win!
posted by The otter lady at 11:25 AM on May 27 [59 favorites]


I've seen plenty of minimalist/tiny house bullshit that read as either "you don't need a personal life or possessions" and "if there a problem with this home you're renting for £1000/week where you can touch every wall stretching out while lying down, it's you" to know exactly where some of this is coming from.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:28 AM on May 27 [15 favorites]


An experienced developer set out to build a tiny house here but it ended up costing her $190K by the time she got the property cleared and sorted out the utility issues.
posted by octothorpe at 11:28 AM on May 27 [5 favorites]


See also: coffin apartments.
posted by she's not there at 11:30 AM on May 27 [3 favorites]


It was especially silly here since you can buy an actual house with three bedrooms and two baths for less than $190K.
posted by octothorpe at 11:30 AM on May 27 [10 favorites]


A lot of these issues are bound up in ridiculous zoning restrictions. Why does a house have to be 960 square feet? And of course zoning boards and community boards are staffed by the worst busybodies in the town, who take great pleasure in preventing people from doing things and none whatsoever in allowing them to do things.

I used to live in Boston, which has a continuing acute affordable housing shortage. There are parts of town where dozens and dozens of vacant lots were partitioned for rowhouses in the 1890s that were never built, subsequently condemned and taken by the city for unpaid tax liens, and will be vacant forever because they're considered unbuildable. Tiny houses could solve some problems for some people. They don't have to solve every problem for everyone. Something doesn't have to be huge to be successful, isn't that sort of the point of the entire movement?
posted by 1adam12 at 11:30 AM on May 27 [16 favorites]


As with so many things these days, the problem is not with experimental living, which we should graciously allow to succeed or fail, but with lifestyle blogs, which are toxic and should all be annihilated.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 11:30 AM on May 27 [93 favorites]


We've been living in an RV for two years now. We cook, have no dishwasher. We do laundry but have no washer/dryer. Even after we stopped constantly travelling (which we miss and will get back to in the longer term) it is great and we rarely feel cramped unless we have visitors. You *don't* need much stuff. It's very freeing, as long as you are ok with that.

Yes, we don't cook as much as we would if we had a full kitchen and a dishwasher, but this seems far more about people's unrealistic expectations and lack of understanding what they were really getting into than any problem with tiny houses as a concept. It's not like 'living in a house' just smaller, the compromise is space and convenience. If you live somewhere where you can live partially outside (we have an outside second living room, essentially, because California) it is a very different style of living, but it's great if you're the kind of person who is adaptable.
posted by Brockles at 11:31 AM on May 27 [37 favorites]


I live in a very small, cramped apartment and I definitely agree that space is important for mental health. I'm crammed next to people on public transit, and for the majority of the day I'm in a little cubicle surrounded by other people. I just want peace and quiet and the ability to do stuff (cook, clean, stretch) without having to rearrange around me everything first.
posted by Stonkle at 11:32 AM on May 27 [16 favorites]


I am not quite in tiny house range but I live with my wife in a sub 700 sq ft apartment and there are just things you can't do. Like have friends over for dinner because if anyone has to use the toilet to drop some kids off at the pool you are all going to be breathing it for at least the next 20 minutes. You also better not be shy because everyone is going to hear it happening.

The cat's litter cannot be put out of the way because there is no out of the way. Also the cat's litter box must be cleaned pretty much immediately after use.

My wife and I are practically 5 year consecutive dance contest winners when in the kitchen together. We are now so well choreographed in our movements and able to telegraph our deviations to each other that we make Jon and Poncherello of CHiPs look like awkward strangers.

Summer breeze? Not a chance in a small place. You simply can't draw air into a space that small without an intake fan and an exhaust fan.

Think your A/C is loud? Trying having the unit less than 2 feet from your head.

Want to work out at home? Warmup by piling your furniture in the corner first.

Small spaces have their advantages. Like being cheap and cozy but boy do they also have their drawbacks.
posted by srboisvert at 11:40 AM on May 27 [33 favorites]


I always thought the tiny house "movement" was really at it's start a misconception of how housing works and an attempt to secure autonomy without having the financial means to do so. On top of this has been laden the vague notion that somehow it is morally superior to have a trailer sided with cedar shingles rather than a Winnebago. It seemed like a ringing echo of the Boomers earlier infatuation with the whole Whole Earth Catalog and the upcycled and sublimated idea of the Frontier all of which, to cast stones, I consider fatuous.

An earlier thread that had photographs of 'coffin apartments' in Hong Kong drew scolding from persons who felt that relating those apartments to life in an American city was a micro aggression and not relevant. I think it is very relevant as I see a continuous erosion of a high standard of living, (you can argue unrealistically so, or inequitably distributed,) in the US and instead of collectively addressing this loss our culture invents individualistic 'solutions' that are dressed up in valorizing authenticity in order to both silence criticism and make the reductions go down easier. I really think it is relevant to not consider what happens in Hong Kong as not completely plausible here, and to recognize that it is not "better" to live in tiny spaces, especially if you have no other alternative.
posted by Pembquist at 11:43 AM on May 27 [39 favorites]


Konmari's Law: Anybody who can't live in a tiny house is guilty of a felony hoarding.

A law who's time has come.
posted by rhizome at 11:50 AM on May 27 [5 favorites]


The tiny house movement has always struck me as classist. For all those people who build their tiny houses out of reclaimed wood or whatever, why not save yourself some effort and go live in a trailer (by which I mean "mobile home," not RV). Why? Because trailers are for trailer trash with beards and jailhouse tattoos, and tiny houses are for hipsters with beards and expensive tattoos.
posted by scratch at 11:51 AM on May 27 [90 favorites]


You're not supposed to cook in a tiny house. You should have exactly enough shelf space to hold you over until your next Soylent shipment, no more.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:52 AM on May 27 [28 favorites]


An experienced developer set out to build a tiny house here but it ended up costing her $190K by the time she got the property cleared and sorted out the utility issues.

I kind of know Eve, but not well enough to ask why on earth she wanted to do this in the first place. Pittsburgh is the last city that needs tiny homes. We already have more housing stock than population, given that the city hemorrhaged people from the 70s through, like last year. Let's fix the houses we already have first, yeah?

Anyway, having lived for nearly five years in a 400 sq ft (to be generous) shack, this "movement" has always elicited a derisive snort from me. Plenty of people live in tiny homes already: poor people, rural people, people in efficiency apartments. No one is writing blogs about the virtues of their lifestyles. (Our first house back in Pittsburgh was 800 sq ft, and the one we just moved to is a palatial 1200. After that shack, it all seems very luxurious.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:53 AM on May 27 [37 favorites]


Privacy and space are important for a just society where people have the chance to grow in health and intellect. There's nothing wrong with a small house, or having only as much space as meets your needs, but the idea that it's virtuous to live in the smallest space possible is silly.

I agree with Frowner.

I happen to live in a flat that's well under 400ft², which apparently could qualify it for "tiny" status in some people's eyes, and it's a pretty nice place to live. But​ that's because I live on my own within easy walking distance of work, amenities and leisure. Conversely, I used to share another flat similarly sized with a partner, and it was pretty horrible. The fact that I'm currently alright in my little flat doesn't make me virtuous, and being miserable about the flat I shared didn't make me a greedy monster.

What I dislike about the "tiny house" backlash/schadenfreude is that it most of it doesn't seem focused on the real reasons why housing is or isn't appropriate, any more than the tiny house movement itself is. It seems mostly (although certainly not entirely) about sneering at "hipsters" for being "unrealistic" in some abstract way, rather than a critique of the way that the tiny house movement tends to ignore the practical reasons (many of which are intimately linked to wealth, privilege, health etc) why some people and circumstances require more living space than others. The attacks seem just as focused on ideology over practicality as the thing being attacked is.
posted by howfar at 12:07 PM on May 27 [23 favorites]


I think a neat engineering exercise would be to build a bunch of tiny houses all together. That way you would need fewer exterior walls/weatherproofing/insulation/exterior doors/roofs and the whole building would be radically cheaper and more efficient. And interior walls would serve to keep people separate - apart, if you will. Just need a name for my new invention.
posted by ftm at 12:07 PM on May 27 [139 favorites]


It also needed new tires, which cost $5,000

How the hell does a set of 4 tires cost that much??
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:08 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


I was working remotely a little while back and looked into tiny houses a bit, since I had access to land where I could have parked it for free and access to heavy haul trucks to move it around. But even with that, there was no way that I could make it pencil out better financially than just renting a generic apartment, and it brings a host of issues (like keeping your water and sewer lines/tanks from freezing) that have to get solved.

A lot of these issues are bound up in ridiculous zoning restrictions. Why does a house have to be 960 square feet?

From a zoning/permitting perspective, how do you allow experimental tiny house dwellings, while prohibiting a crappy landlord or developer from setting up what would basically be detached tenement housing? It's a solvable problem, and I know some cities have tackled it, but it's not as simple as simply reducing the minimum dwelling unit size.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:11 PM on May 27 [16 favorites]


Because trailers are for trailer trash with beards and jailhouse tattoos, and tiny houses are for hipsters with beards and expensive tattoos.

Yeah the thing that was always weird for me about the tiny house movement (as opposed to, you know, living in a very small house) was how much it seemed to fetishize luxury and a sort of targeted hypercapitalism and designy asceticism. Like when I was a kid my uncle lived in a bus (pic). And he'd built it up sort of like he wanted and there was a woodstove in the back and it worked great for him. But it wasn't the thing that ... you'd pay for, y'know? It was a thing broke people who were hippies did.

I now live in a town with a number of trailer parks. The housing there is small, certainly. And yet there is NO sympatico with the folks who live in trailer parks (which tick many of the boxes of good life living in terms of efficient use of land and power, but often less good in terms of well-insulated and solidly made housing) and the tiny house people. I talked recently to the guy who runs the woodshop at the vocational school where I work. He's started getting into building tiny houses because they are a CASH COW. The people who purchase them can and will spend more on a small house with high end/high efficiency stuff inside, stuff with big markups. He was saying he should quit his job and just build them. Around here you can get a decent two or three bedroom house for 100K. People who pay half that for a quarter of the space are looking for a very specific type of thing. That said the main article here did seem weirdly sneering.

An experienced developer set out to build a tiny house here but it ended up costing her $190K by the time she got the property cleared and sorted out the utility issues.

If you read that article, this is only double what she thought it would cost. 95K is not much for a house but it's not like "Hey we're going to build affordable temporary housing for homeless" cheap.

NB: I live in a 700 square foot apartment and it would never occur to me to complain because it doesn't have laundry. That said, I know a lot of people whose lives would be severely diminished by lack of a dishwasher and that's not really me either so part of this is just knowing yourself before you try it I guess.
posted by jessamyn at 12:12 PM on May 27 [25 favorites]


My wife and I lived in an 800 square foot house for 8 years. Having people over wasn't a huge problem with our layout, you just put out lots of folding chairs and people are fine. But sleeping definitely was a problem - the bed was in repurposed attic space, and I had serious trouble breathing due to the mustiness. Also we literally had no closets, which made wearing reasonable professional clothing a challenge. I wouldn't recommend going even smaller!
posted by miyabo at 12:13 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


A lot of these issues are bound up in ridiculous zoning restrictions. Why does a house have to be 960 square feet? And of course zoning boards and community boards are staffed by the worst busybodies in the town, who take great pleasure in preventing people from doing things and none whatsoever in allowing them to do things.

Haha, no. For every zoning or code law there is a person who caused that law to go into effect. The minimum size was instituted in a place I lived because people were renting sheds to those who wanted to claim their kids lived in the school district. It also guarantees a minimum property tax that residents have to pay. Now I don't really agree with property tax the way it works in the US but that's the system and people cheating it isn't super cool. DO you know how much it costs to build a new water treatment facility because twice as many people live in the service area as you planned? Do you understand the intricacies of guaranteeing your new water plant won't be overwhelmed to the feds when they grant you funding to build one? When you're a Class 2 or 3 government and have hardly any paid staff or enforcement means? If everyone heats with wood stoves how do you protect air quality? Do you understand the financial sanctions that can be imposed if you do not? If not then save the rant, because it's veering into Trump-ian territory.

Tiny homes are really just cabins or trailers and there is a long tradition of people living in cabins and trailers in the US. "I'll just buy some land and throw a trailer on it" is not a new idea. There is a reason the banks won't finance them.

Also the lack of egress windows in most of those tiny homes, janky homemade heating systems and use of processed wood products makes them wildly illegal and unsafe most places. It's kind of like the Oakland fire when the city got shit for not letting artists do their thing then got shit for not enforcing codes on artists. I'm honestly surprised there hasn't been a rash of CO and fire related deaths yet.
posted by fshgrl at 12:14 PM on May 27 [73 favorites]


We are myself and my wife and 2 small children in 34 m2 (366 ft2). It sucks and we've been looking for a bigger place for ages, but it's not so rare in Spain. The US definition of tiny seems quite roomy if you're a single person or a couple. Before the kids came along, we were fine in this flat.
Also, I don't know anybody in Barcelona who has a dryer, and only a couple who have a dishwasher. Wash your own dishes, it takes 5 minutes!
posted by conifer at 12:16 PM on May 27 [20 favorites]


Oh man, I've said before that I love to hate-watch alllll of the tiny house shows (well, I do love the storage porn aspect, but I stay for getting my hate on about the twee classist assholes and unsustainability) and I've long said that there needs to be another show chronicling the break-ups divorces spurred after couples attempt to cohabitate in 200 square feet when through a whole winter and/or flu season...
posted by TwoStride at 12:17 PM on May 27 [10 favorites]


Abortions for some, miniature American houses for others!
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:23 PM on May 27 [15 favorites]


95K is not much for a house but it's not like "Hey we're going to build affordable temporary housing for homeless" cheap.

95k is pretty much exactly what we paid for our recently renovated, fully equipped with modcons 2br/1ba cape cod with huge yard and off street parking located less than two miles away from the tiny house site. Seriously doing this in Pittsburgh is just insanity.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:24 PM on May 27 [20 favorites]


See also NYC studio.
posted by xtian at 12:25 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


For all the totally legit class-based critiques of the tiny house phenom, this article was not only really sneery, but the sneering was completely tacked on and mean-spirited. These people offered some sincere testimonials; seems pretty dickish to tack on some jabs about composting poo and living in a Prius.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:25 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


I guess that I think that part of the appeal of the tiny houses has to do with appreciating clever design. It's really cool to see how they fit all that stuff into little nooks and corners and still make it look good, just from a design and engineering standpoint. So while I find the fetishization of tiny houses a little odd, I do understand why they're fun to look at. See also: the fake apartments in IKEA stores.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:29 PM on May 27 [40 favorites]


I'm still having a hard time here getting over the idea of somebody spending $195k to create a "perfect instagram scenario."
posted by saulgoodman at 12:43 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


I'm just fine living in a tiny japanese hotel room with kitchenette for an extended period, but I'm doing it with a certain amount of money and free time that not everyone has. I don't need storage for infrequently-used things, I just know if I need it, I can buy it then. I can take my clothes to the cleaners right across the street (thus reducing my storage requirements, if some stuff is always at the cleaner in rotation), I can stop at the market for the day's ingredients on my walk home every single day. It does end up serializing tasks, though - can work on a big spread-out project, can cook dinner, can work out, can iron clothes, but only one of those things at a time.
posted by ctmf at 12:44 PM on May 27 [7 favorites]


I really really wanted a tiny house for awhile. As in actually toured a few and looked at plans and everything. And my poor husband, who loves me, finally had to say, "This is okay to dream about, but honey, we have 2 tiny houses worth of books and at least 1 tiny house worth of outdoor equipment and gear - are you willing to get rid of that?" And the answer was no.

But here's how I think the tiny house movement actually really does work, as a movement, which others here have pointed out and we're a living example of: it inspired us to seriously think about lifestyle and the kind of house we wanted to live in. And because we're DINKs in the American west/midwest, we've lived in a lot of 2000+ ft places and accumulated All The Things to fill those places as a result.

The tiny house movement really inspired us to live a life that is about conscious consumption in a life-changing way. We got rid of about 3/4 of our things. We downsized significantly to a 750 sq. foot home. We even ended up getting rid of one of our vehicles. We purposely chose an area we could walk to the grocery store.

And there's certainly a lot of privilege in that we had those choices. I know that. The hardest part of the whole process was dealing with family and friends, particularly our parents, who Did Not Understand and just were really super judgmental and concerned, but also didn't understand our lifestyle as a choice. We learned a lot about generational differences and the "American Dream" and our consumption society as a result.

But I grew up pretty poor in a 800 sq foot house with a family of 4 (although you could fit 3 of our houses in all of our outbuildings) and knew lots of people who live in trailers. And I've realized there's a very significant part of the tiny house movement that I haven't seen much discussion about, and that's the importance of GOOD DESIGN in our homes. All of them. To me, that's a really important part of "conscious consumption "that perhaps needs more emphasis? Living smaller works well with good design, and works like shit without it. In some ways that was the appeal of some tiny house living, to me - everything seems to have a decent amount of thought put into it. (I know that's not always reality.) And a tiny house seems like it has good design, while a trailer doesn't (which is far as I'm going to dip into the whole trailer thing though I have some strong opinions).

And parts have been been really frustrating, especially with things like appliance shopping because we KNOW how many people live in small apartments in America but all the appliances seem designed for McMansion sized layouts. Or furniture. I'd really love to know if some of the popularity of IKEA is due to they're being one of the few places that has items sized for smaller spaces, unlike the typical furniture warehouse type of situation where the couch is the size of our goddamn living room. But it's just not that - it's also layout and simple touches like where the outlets are placed.

Annnnd I've learned that's applicable to things like zoning codes. At first I've been really upset about lots in our area where a certain portion of the lot had to be house and all the other things the tiny house movement has been combating against - which are still worthwhile in the right area - but learning more about gentrification and urban design and examples of places like SF where single family home lots have causes problems with pricing and urban density I've changed my mind about some things. I've realized that part of the process behind zoning codes should incorporate "good design" just as much as the kitchen layout in a tiny house does. I realize that's "urban planning" in a nutshell but it wasn't something I'd really thought about before, let alone come to see its importance.

Anyway. I still like it as a movement because it has inspired people like to me to change portions of my life; to try and be more open-minded about some things; and to think about/confront elements of our society I might have otherwise. In other words, to try to be a better person.
posted by barchan at 12:52 PM on May 27 [66 favorites]


Or what ArbitraryAndCapricious said. *tips hat*
posted by barchan at 12:55 PM on May 27


The US definition of tiny seems quite roomy if you're a single person or a couple. Before the kids came along, we were fine in this flat.

The difference in the US is that the amenities of city living in Europe are not so much here. Very, very few apartments or houses in the US (outside SF and NYC) are within walking distance of anything. You can't pop down to the laundromat and drop off your stuff while grabbing a coffee next door. Eating out is expensive in comparison to Europe and fantastically unhealthy. Also the culture for socializing once you are older than 22 is having people over, not going out to a restaurant or bar together. In my neighbourhood there is one (very expensive) restaurant one mile away that I can bike too. Everything else is 2 or 3 miles away at least- everything: stores, laundromat, pet food, bars, cinema, hairdresser etc. And I live in a city, in dense housing in a definitely urban area with many apartments and small townhouses. Many families here have one car only. There are no buses. It becomes much cheaper to pay more for a big house with laundry and big kitchen and freezer space than to try and deal with it. Also there are no radiators to dry your clothes on!!!

When I lived in rural Europe I lived much the same way I do here in the city: shop once a week, buy in bulk, store things, don't eat out much, do laundry at home on Sundays etc. In SE Asia or Greece or Paris I would just go out and walk 100 feet to get coffee in the morning or to buy food if it was too hot to cook, all for a reasonable price. Not possible here, literally not possible.. I do hang many of my clothes to dry but dryers are so, so cheap to run here there is no reason to really.
posted by fshgrl at 12:55 PM on May 27 [39 favorites]


I recently picked up a book titled "Goodbye, Things" by Fumio Sasaki, a Japanese proponent of "minimalism" as a way of life. Comparing Konmari to Sasaki is like comparing the Church of England to Wahhabiism. Some of his advice is sensible, but actually following with the whole philosophy seems like an act of psychic self-mutilation. To do so, for example, would involve discarding everything one has for the sake of image (which includes books), minimising one's wardrobe to a uniform (any more is vanity), getting rid of anything that one intends to use in the future but has no firm plans for, liquidating one's music collection (being "into" all those genres and artists is also a form of vanity).

At the moment, Sasaki lives with a few changes of (identical) clothes, a MacBook and little more, though I have doubts about whether that is sustainable in the long term whilst remaining a whole human being.
posted by acb at 12:58 PM on May 27 [12 favorites]


I am actually obsessed with tiny houses -- I follow multiple blogs/sites about them -- and while HGTV is all high-end design-porn tiny houses, the serious sites about them tend to cover a whole range, from old small houses, vacation cottages, renovated one-room log cabins, etc., to urban apartments, to winnebagos, teardrop trailers, shepherd's huts, sailboats, houseboats, and barges, to manufactured houses, tiny houses on wheels, renovated school buses, and totally nutty highly individual "tiny houses" like a guy who created a sort of coffin you live in that tows behind your bike.

I've built a taxonomy of tiny house people. Leaving aside the ones built as Air B&Bs or fancy vacation trailers, here's my tentative taxonomy:

1) People with expensive taste and no particular clue. These are the ones most often featured on HGTV, who are mighty pious about their lifestyle, and who tend to give it up quickly. I, too, love to hate-watch these people.

2) Art people. Artists of various sorts, including visual arts but also various performance arts, who live a sort of bohemian existence and this way can build their own highly-personalized space and crash in people's yards instead of on their couches.

3) Students. Often they build a tiny house in the summer as a project and then save money on dorm room & board (or student apartment housing) by living in a tiny house near campus. It's basically a mobile dorm room with a kitchenette and bathroom. They hold their value pretty well and these kids generally intend to sell them when they graduate or get a job.

4) Architecture and Green Design people, for whom its an extension of their work. These people often live in them for quite a while, especially if single. They tend not to be lifestyle preachy but interested in experimenting with living with various ideas.

5) Adventure people, the kind who work as outward bound instructors in the summer and ski instructors in the winter, or who rock climb part of the year and work on road crews part of the year, or whatever. Again, the alternative would be couch-surfing or short-term rentals, and lugging your skiis and gear all over the place as luggage. A tiny house lets them just haul to wherever they're working with all their stuff inside. (Sort-of related, I saw one recently that was a traveling nurse on shorter-term contracts, who was also a single mom. She built a tiny house so her daughter didn't have to keep picking up and moving to short-term corporate rentals every six months, but could have her own room and space and a pet.) These people live in the tiny house as long as they keep working short-term and seasonal gigs.

6) Hippie homeschoolers who think it'd be fun to build and live in a tiny house while driving to different places because the world is their classroom. (In earlier days they would have had winnebagos or lived on a sailboat; these days they all convert school buses because you can sleep six people in one.)These people tend to live in their schoolie for a calendar year, but the cabin fever of three small children and limited plumbing gets to them after a while. (One very honest schoolie blog talked about how when you have three small children with a gastrointestinal bug, living in a school bus with one bathroom SUCKS, enough that they considered two adjoining rooms at a hotel until everyone got better.) They often do permanently downsize their life when they sell the schoolie and move back into regular housing, looking for a little cottage instead of a big McMansion.

7) Divorcees, who self-build a tiny house as a form of therapy and reclaiming of themselves, doing something not typically coded as feminine (building a house!) but within a reasonable timeframe and budget (tiny rather than a whole house, less codes to worry about), and who then have a "room of their own." A lot of these women do live in these a long time, sometimes migrating among their childrens' houses throughout the year to see different grandchildren.

8) ADA-compliant, medicare-paid tiny houses -- this is big in Minnesota -- where a health services company will haul a tiny house to your backyard so your mom can come stay in it while she's recovering from hip surgery, having a blend of independence -- her own space -- and immediate family support. (You can also do it the other way, they'll drop one for you in your mom's backyard so she can recover at home but you don't have to move IN with her, but medicare doesn't pay for it then.) The company comes and services the utilities every week as part of the rental. This is apparently quite economical compared to living in a rehab facility, and has better recovery rates.

9) Genuine odd birds, who just live odd lives because it makes them happy.

Of note is that only a couple of these categories of people intend to live in a tiny home PERMANENTLY; many do it while it suits their lifestyle, or to reach a particular goal, and then move on to more traditional housing.

I don't think I will ever live in a tiny house myself, but I do get a lot from these blogs -- it scratches that very particular storage-porn itch; I like looking at the design (whether fancy or idiosyncratic or, uh, rickety); looking at people's very small houses and their possession purges and storage and so on makes me a lot more conscious when buying things myself. (It's also made me a bit more clever about storage. It never occurred to me, until I saw it in a tiny house, that I could hang the umbrella stroller from the closet rod instead of having it fall on me every time I open the closet.) It's also led to a resurgence in the availability of smaller (but nice!) appliances and furniture. This is a problem we have frequently, as our house is a small one built in 1950, and whenever we have to replace an appliance, a comprehensive search leads us to, like, two whole options that are small enough to fit the old-fashioned sized appliance-hole. Or, narrow sinks that can fit smaller powder rooms. Or small furniture scaled to smaller homes -- we had a hell of a time finding chairs that didn't look stupidly gigantic in our little bitty living room. The trendiness of "small" has led to more options in furnishing and appliances for those of us who DON'T want to live in McMansions with 16-seat sectionals, but don't necessarily want to go tiny either.

It's also gradually recalibrated my ideas about how much space I "need" for my family (3 kids) and my stuff -- less than I used to think, and with the arrangement of the space mattering a lot more than the size of the bedrooms. Also less stuff in general. It's also convinced me that it is actually horrible to live with three children and only one bathroom, no matter how cute I think the house looks. :)

(On preview, haha, barchan and I are sharing one brain! Small appliances, downsizing crap, and conscious consumption FTW!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:13 PM on May 27 [75 favorites]


I wish that I had linked out to some discussions of the dearth of affordable entry level homes. Salt Lake City, for example, has a 2% vacancy rate.
posted by mecran01 at 1:20 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


being "into" all those genres and artists is also a form of vanity

Why is it not also vanity to be so "into" minimalism? Setting oneself so far apart from society to make a point seems pretty ego centric. All movements seem like a species of one true wayism to me. The real world is too complex and subtle for any one theoretical solution to a particular problem to be valuable or useful in every other case.

My exwife and I ended up with a house that was too big partly because all the advice at the time was to look at price per square foot, and honestly, we had no idea what we were doing. I wanted to keep renting an apartment because I didn't feel sure I was ready for the long term responsibility of a mortgage and thought it would be better to keep more money over the short term, but there's a certain nesting instinct that takes hold for some, and at the time, before the crash, housing didn't seem like quite the trap it does now, and it seemed like it would be no big deal to sell later and downsize or move somewhere else.

I always felt guilty about the size of the place and angled for getting residential solar installed, but here in Florida that's been harder to finance and be allowed to do, even if one thing or another hadn't always been coming along to thwart those plans.

For my money, emphasizing the self sacrifice and the smallness of the space and ignoring how the energy keeping the house running is produced is kind of shallow and blames consumers for what's ultimately an energy producer problem.

It's sort of vaguely like how now that we all have locks built into our doors, it's viewed as almost as bad to leave your doors unlocked as to steal from other people.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:21 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Genuine odd birds, who just live odd lives because it makes them happy.
posted by The otter lady at 1:26 PM on May 27 [25 favorites]


Very, very few apartments or houses in the US (outside SF and NYC) are within walking distance of anything. You can't pop down to the laundromat and drop off your stuff while grabbing a coffee next door.

I sympathize, but this seems like an exaggeration. I live in the suburbs of a medium sized city in the US. I can walk half a block to the laundromat and have dinner in the Asian restaurant next door while having my pet groomed in the same small row of stores. I would have to walk the other way to get coffee, though -- about a block. There is a big park within walking distance as well. There is decent bus service. The houses have flowery front yards. The neighborhood is not expensive (yet, anyway.) And I see plenty of other suburbs and small towns with a lot of the same, nearby amenities.
posted by serena15221 at 1:30 PM on May 27 [9 favorites]


the importance of GOOD DESIGN in our homes.

Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big House has been writing about this problem for almost two decades. Her theses of house design and user-focused architecture have strongly influenced the way I think about and subsequently have chosen the architecture we have chosen to live in. Really highly recommended if reducing footprint and good design interest you.
posted by bonehead at 1:42 PM on May 27 [27 favorites]


I do find the general "HA! People tried something and found they didn't like it." type stories to be weird, but it seems it's a common attitude. The lesson is; Never try.
posted by bongo_x at 1:44 PM on May 27 [14 favorites]


Thanks bonehead!
posted by barchan at 1:51 PM on May 27


I could live in tiny house but in order to maintain my little bits of independence and continue to step as lightly on the earth as I can I would need some very large storage spaces for my vegetable gardening tools, canning and dehydrating equipment, storing root crops, etc. I would also need a substitute for my basement so I can hang clothes to dry in the winter. Then I would need a workshop for my sewing machine, ironing area, yarn stash etc. and for my husband's woodworking tools, not the same space as I don't want sawdust in my yarn. Then we would need an extension to the tiny house so the wood stove could be positioned a safe distance from walls and furniture. Also, in this climate you need two wardrobes and space to store the out of season clothes. My house is 900 sq. ft. but it, the basement, attic and garage are all "working spaces".
posted by Botanizer at 2:07 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


I sympathize, but this seems like an exaggeration. I live in the suburbs of a medium sized city in the US.

So do I, and in my suburb, it's spot-on. There are places near me that I can't legally walk to because of a lack of sidewalks. There is one sit-down restaurant within a mile of my home. There are no bookstores within three miles (six miles if you don't want to cross a freeway on an unpaved "sidewalk" a foot away from traffic). It's a car culture in many, many, many places in the U.S.
posted by Etrigan at 2:08 PM on May 27 [39 favorites]


I can see how a single person with a specific type of lifestyle and personality might be perfectly happy with a tiny, minimalist home. (I can't see it if they're living with someone, but I'll believe people who say they are. I just can't imagine it, and I don't want to try.) But some of these people don't sound like they really thought it through. I mean, people don't live in bigger houses just because they're ridiculous or vain.

One important thing my biggish house provides me is the ability to stay there for extended periods. I have the space I need to keep a stocked pantry, to cook, to work on hobbies, to work-work, to have guests comfortably, and to get away other people, including the ones I live with. Not everyone has those same needs, though. A lot of people are perfectly happy spending more time out in public spaces like coffee shops, restaurants, laundromats, etc., and if you live in an area where those things are all accessible AND you don't mind that sort of thing, I can totally understand how you could really thrive in a tiny house.

(From my house, I could walk to probably six little nano brewpubs, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't get to the nearest laundromat alive. It's barely even safe to drive there. So you probably couldn't live very comfortably in a tiny house here.)
posted by ernielundquist at 2:26 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


I live in a very tiny apartment. So does Mr.Roquette. We spend most of our time in his appartment because his bed is bigger. If we ever part ways, I have my own place. Same applies if I get sulky and need some space or if he does. A lot of older people end up doing something like that. Frankly to me if you end up in tiny house territory, at our income levels, it's actually mobile home territory. Mobile homes are disaster magnets. Except perhaps for those all concrete ones I saw at the fairone year which were huge and seemed suitable for a decent sized family.
Tiny homes look pretty, but are very over-priced. The advantages for childless young people or unattached older people who don't have hobbies seem considerable, except for the disaster magnet potential. Frankly I am fine in a smallish space. My building has a laundry. I don't go out much, except to political meetings. If things get hairy and I have to leave, well that's what all - weather tents are for.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:45 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Comparing Konmari to Sasaki is like comparing the Church of England to Wahhabiism. Some of his advice is sensible, but actually following with the whole philosophy seems like an act of psychic self-mutilation.

Honestly, what it reminds me of is living in a religious cloister, except without the religion. And you know, hey, if people are into that, then maybe build a monastery, establish a few principles, and get the tax break. That being said, even religions that have monks and nuns agree that that life isn't for everyone, so I'm certainly not looking to take crap for my lifestyle from someone advocating what is, ultimately, a deeply unoriginal idea.

For me personally, I bought my house at age 37 and, prior to that, lived in a string of 600-700 sq ft apartments, and while I did get quite skilled at not accumulating clutter, I was aggravated by how quickly clutter and dirt accumulated. And it's also true that apartments also tend to come with thin walls and neighbor noise, so maybe I wouldn't mind so much if I got a ton of quiet with it, but just the crowding of objects into the space was annoying.

Someone above mentioned dishwashers, and washing dishes by hand uses thousands more gallons of water per year than using a dishwasher, BTW. If you're going to forego an appliance and you're looking into tiny spaces for supposedly environmental reasons, the dishwasher shouldn't be the one you ditch.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:58 PM on May 27 [10 favorites]


I really miss having a washer/dryer. That kills me," he says. And since he and his girlfriend cook all the time, not having a dishwasher

In my nearly 40 years of living on my own I have never had a dishwasher. I had an in-unit washer and dryer for two years. I've downsized into a tiny bachelorette pad so I know tiny living. If you can't get over having to hand-wash dishes for two people then this probably isn't the life for you.

And I think, 'what the hell do you cook?'"

When I first moved here I, too, complained about no counter space. When I saw that Deb from Smitten Kitchen built her empire in a tiny kitchen just like mine I quit complaining and started cooking again.

PS: pull the drawers out, lay a cutting board across the top and boom, more counter space.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:23 PM on May 27 [10 favorites]


I do like how tiny house people are pushing on building codes. For example, code here until recently said all rooms have to be at least 7x10, all bedrooms have to be separate rooms, the kitchen has to be a separate room. That's a lot of darn space! There are a handful of carriage house conversions grandfathered in, and competition for them is FIERCE. They're mostly like studio HOUSES, with a kitchenette, a bathroom, a closet, and a sitting/bed room. Sometimes they have a front sitting room/kitchenette and a back bedroom (with bathroom next to it). People want these, they want to live in them, but they're illegal to build anymore.

We have the same problem someone mentioned above that Pittsburgh has, which is that old lots are so small that when houses get torn down (or burn down or whatever), it's not worth it to anybody to rebuild, because the code requirements mean the rooms have to be SO BIG the house can barely fit on the lot. But I bet there's a real market out there for people who want a "studio house" or a one-bedroom house, that's like a starter apartment, but has a yard and no shared walls and maybe a basement, and those would be awesome on these lots. (The naked lots cost around $2500. You can get an extremely grotty but technically legal-to-inhabit house for around $6500.) It could provide lower-cost starter homes for single people and couples, help stabilize the neighborhood, diversify the available housing stock.

Code around children and bedrooms can get really weird; I'm not sure that one-child-per-bedroom is the best way of using space or creating privacy. Obviously that should be an option, but I think there should be other options, more flexible spaces, different way for families to live.

Anyway, one of the things I love about tiny house evangelists is that in pushing for their tiny houses, they're also pushing on some of the inanities of the building codes that have a bunch of accretion of things over the last 100 years that have nothing to do with safety but a lot to do with who's perceived as a desirable homeowner/community member, love of cars, what developers can sell at the most profit, keeping contractor competitors out of the market, etc. I mean obviously you want to avoid firetrap flophouses or people who stack their children like cordwood (*coughtheduggarscough*), but it should be easier to get variances so people can build houses that suit different needs and ways of living that present no risk to health or safety.

Even if they only manage to bring back sensible, small 1930s-size houses so people can actually build on those old lots, that'd be great.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:24 PM on May 27 [31 favorites]


One important thing my biggish house provides me is the ability to stay there for extended periods.

We used to offer up our space (a funky 70s constructed house just over 2000 sq ft) to host touring bands coming through town before we had kids. They always seemed really grateful to have the extra space and a warm shower and decent breakfast. One of our more frequent guests (who had trained as an electrical engineer before jumping whole hog into the touring band life) even inspected our electrical work as a thank you. It was nice to be able to offer that luxury and comfort to people we knew were stressed and tired and would have otherwise probably been sleeping in some cramped space after driving all day in cramped spaces.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:27 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]




There are many times I go wish to give up my house and all the associated junk to live a simpler life. However, that wears off pretty quick after annual RV trips with the arguing over who's turn it is to empty the black water and gray water! As the old guy lecturing the young folk to be sure and drain the black water FIRST so they can use the gray water to clear the hose, I'm glad to come home, especially when they didn't listen.
posted by Muncle at 4:21 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


When I first moved here I, too, complained about no counter space. When I saw that Deb from Smitten Kitchen built her empire in a tiny kitchen just like mine I quit complaining and started cooking again

Did your kitchen have actual working ventilation? Because my small 1BR London flat doesn't; the rangehood above the stove has no exhaust pipe attached, and just ventilates its exhaust into the confined space of the combined living room/kitchen. (I'm told this is a common arrangement in a place where tenants are grateful for anything they can get.) In any case, I haven't used my wok in five years.
posted by acb at 4:39 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of the recent thread about "what thing in your kitchen drives you crazy."

I always thought the debate should be more about how to optimize a design rather than the McMansion vs Tiny House spectrum. Quality and quantity. Now if only this movement had a snappy name...

In addition to Susanka's The Not So Big House series, A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al is a classic for people who want good design in their built environment.
It's essentially a catalog of concepts for livable and fulfilling spaces and touches on a lot of the issues mentioned so far, like need for individual space and mental health, urban planning, aesthetic designs, practical tips...I like how it can get really specific and research-based, like "here are the minimum dimensions for a usable balcony" or "kitchen counters should be to the south," and also very broad, such as in the discussions of how buildings can accommodate different generations for a happier society. And, because it's a catalog, you can just choose the ones you want to adapt to your own lifestyle. Definitely not a "one size fits all" approach.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 5:08 PM on May 27 [10 favorites]


How the hell does a set of 4 tires cost that much??

No kidding. After a pretty scary 65mph blow out on my RV I replaced all 6 tyres straight away with good, solid quality ones. The bill was $2,600. I have no idea what tyres you are putting on that which cost $1250 each. That's high performance car money per tyre.
posted by Brockles at 5:08 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


I know I got to this thread late, but do feel I should weigh in. My modest house is by no means tiny, but just right. I used to live in a one bedroom apartment with the bathtub in the kitchen. My subconscious yearned so strongly for space and greenery that one day I found myself taking the first opportunity to flee the city -- at what turned out to be a major financial disadvantage. But I can vouch for all the benefits of a little space and a lotta yard to what Jeeves calls the "psychology of the individual". It's worth every penny. (See picture in my user profile.)
posted by Modest House at 5:10 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


When I lived in my tiny place I was lucky to have both a dishwasher and washer/dryer. But eventually my mom told me she was tired of doing my chores, and made me move out of the basement .
posted by happyroach at 5:14 PM on May 27 [13 favorites]


When I lived in my tiny place I was lucky to have both a dishwasher and washer/dryer. But eventually my mom told me she was tired of doing my chores, and made me move out of the basement .
posted by happyroach at 8:14 PM on May 27 [+] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by JanetLand at 5:42 PM on May 27 [8 favorites]


Because I mentioned it above, bike-towable coffin you can live in. I think that's about as extreme as you can take it.

I have a pinterest board of tiny houses I particularly liked, either because they're pretty, or have an interesting/intriguing/clever storage solution or layout, or because they seem like houses a person with children could actually live in. It's not even a little comprehensive, being a very personal collection of things that interested me and me alone, but it shows at least some of the diversity out there ... and lots of cool storage and pretty decor.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:51 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


washing dishes by hand uses thousands more gallons of water per year than using a dishwasher, BTW.

Ha. I read this and was like "What?!" and did the math (actually read a lot about other people doing the math) and it's one of those things that's basically true but has a lot of wiggle room in it. That is: hyperefficient dishwashers and inefficient handwashing can net these results. And dishwashing is almost always at least slightly more kind to the environment than hand washing. So hey I learned a thing. But I still don't have a dishwasher.

But more to the point, I think it highlights one of the reasons this topic is such a THING. It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with wanting to live in a tiny house. As many people in the thread have said, a lot of us live in small houses. But there's something annoying (to the easily annoyable internet people that many of us are) with someone saying "I am doing this for $REASONS!" and then those reasons fall apart relatively quickly, or can.

Some of the reasons we've seen

- Cheaper - not always, sometimes quite expensive
- Simpler - not with regulatory environments they way they are
- Requires less thought - requires a lot more thought in a lot of cases, getting all your stuff in a space like that
- Design-y - often yes, one of the types that EM mentions who seem to be living in line with their stated values
- Earth-friendly - maybe? they're not really high density, in an ideal world they would be this way in the real world they only sometimes are
- Happiness-making - I think this was the point of TFA

And just generally that sort of lifestyle-comparison thing makes interesting reading but the complexities of how and where people live have a lot more depth to them than you read about in these articles. It's important t olive a conscious life. There are many ways to do that. There are also many ways to live a poorly-considered life and I think it makes news when (among other things) it's people with money talking about how living like people without money is a better choice... right up until they try it. I've enjoyed this discussion a lot.
posted by jessamyn at 5:58 PM on May 27 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure how people constantly miss the point that with a tiny house or RV, your living room is OUTSIDE. The house part is meant for keeping you dry and warm while you sleep, toilet and eat. That's it.

I lived in an RV for awhile and concur with Brockles. It's great and the only reason I live in an apartment now is because my marriage hit the skids. If I could work it out logistically, I would throw most of my stuff in a dumpster today and go get an RV. Tiny houses are prettier, but those aren't practical to move every week.

There are insufferable people in all hobbies and lifestyles; it's not the object that's the problem. (Except unicycles, fuck those hipster weirdos.)
posted by AFABulous at 6:09 PM on May 27 [16 favorites]


If I could work it out logistically, I would throw most of my stuff in a dumpster today and go get an RV.

Let me know what is stopping you. I have a 36ft Motorhome for sale with NY plates that is in Cali right now and I'd let it go for a good price. Upgraded and well maintained, with 6 new tyres (see above) and ready to roll. Winterised and with an electric oil radiator and a small fan heater would be fine to live in down to regular or just below freezing temps. Just running the gas heater creates too much humidity.

We have moved into a 42ft fifth wheel which is much bigger and is long term more comfortable for three of us, but if it was just my wife and I we would have stayed in the Motorhome for a lot longer and kept on moving. I have been sitting on the old one for a year because I'm not THAT keen on selling it, but being as I still have it a year later it makes sense to get rid of it.
posted by Brockles at 6:25 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


By winterised I mean in storage, but ALSO it has the cold weather kit on it from new (North US owned when new).
posted by Brockles at 6:25 PM on May 27


I got into the concept of energy efficient houses back in the late '70s/early '80s, thanks to my parents. I own a very dog-eared copy of "30 Energy Efficient Houses." The overarching concept is passive-solar oriented post and beam structures that the owner can build themselves, with the majority of the houses being on the smaller side. The author built his own tiny house and detailed it in that book.

As a result I've loved the idea of small houses, but after living in NYC apartments for over 20 years, I think I'm ready for something larger than 1000 square feet. And a washer/dryer of my own! That sounds amazing.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:31 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


basically true but has a lot of wiggle room in it. That is: hyperefficient dishwashers and inefficient handwashing can net these results. And dishwashing is almost always at least slightly more kind to the environment than hand washing.

See, I'm not buying that too much. If you always fill a sink with hot water to wash your dishes and rinse everything off afterwards like bubbles are made of cyanide then maybe. But if you hand wash dishes like someone with some actual care then you hardly use any water. Wash with small amount of water until clean then put into second side of the sink. Quick shower-head style rinse off. Done. But, as well, we're only washing a small amount of stuff. We probably wouldn't fill a standard dishwasher more than every 6 days, but we have got into the habit of being more diligent with scraping plates/pans etc and prepping for washing as a habit mainly because of trying not to fill the grey water tank with decomposing food sludge. So I'm sure that really helps.

As for environmental, if the water usage is similar, then you're not buying or transporting a dishwasher to the house and also not using electricity beyond your normal hot water stuff (or running the pumps and stuff of a dishwasher). then I'm not convinced. It is *possible* to use more water hand washing, but I do not at all think it is inevitable. But I'm quite sure we are not at all the average 'washing dishes' case in the US.
posted by Brockles at 6:36 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


"I'm not sure how people constantly miss the point that with a tiny house or RV, your living room is OUTSIDE."

Yeah, I live in a small house for five people, and the reason it works is that we have a yard, and in the spring, summer, and fall, we live a large part of the day outdoors. We frequently eat outdoors, not least because you have to clean way less mess with children when the ants will clean it up for you. Winter is hard, and only workable because the kids are at school every day. Winter break, when they're off for two weeks, is a bit of a nightmare because we're all on top of each other the entire time. But summer break? That's pretty easy, because we can shoo all the small people outdoors, where they can make as much mess as they want and we don't really have to clean it up, and as much noise as they want, and as much chaos as they want.

We also do basically 100% of our entertaining in the summer, when we can have people outdoors. Only our very best friends are allowed to come over in the winter when everything is messy and everyone is surly.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:42 PM on May 27 [12 favorites]


Wait wait what's the square footage of a bouncy castle?

I will somehow get this permitted. I will.
posted by asperity at 8:10 PM on May 27 [14 favorites]




My favorite episode of one of those tiny house shows was a dad, mom, and three daughters, and dad was falling in love with this tiny house that had a lofted sleeping area where all five would sleep (I guess he didn't want more kids or to traumatize the ones he had) but the idea of a single outdoor toilet shared by all of them was enough the girls were threatening a mutiny before he backed off the idea.

I like the idea of them and even some of the aesthetics but having dealt with laundromats and European apartments without real dryers, eff that. Not to mention the toilet thing.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:23 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


These remind me of Winston's apartment from 1984.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:41 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


I'm just glad the geodesic dome seems to be quite sincerely dead to all but the most ignorantly starry-eyed among us.
posted by sonascope at 9:07 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


You know it. Monolithic concrete dome or GTFO.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:52 PM on May 27 [10 favorites]


There are tornado warnings south of my (three bed, two bath, two-car garage) house, which is normal weather for spring in Oklahoma. I grew up in a trailer park. My husband spent several years in a trailer until his parents built their home (and one of the first add-ons was a storm shelter, which they still use).

Tiny houses are fine, until the weather gets crazy. Blizzards. Heat warnings. 60-mph winds. Rainy season (think keeping dried goods and fabrics dry with all the humidity and no HVAC). The romance goes away pretty fast when you can put your hand on the wall and feel nature's fury (I've been watching the radar reports all evening).

RVs are fine for a vacation, but give me something with a secure footing and four solid, well-insulated walls the rest of the year.
posted by TrishaU at 10:01 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


I have no interest in living in a tiny dwelling of any type, but I can say that I'd much rather have a dishwasher than an in-unit washer/dryer.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:48 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


ADA-compliant, medicare-paid tiny houses -- this is big in Minnesota -- where a health services company will haul a tiny house to your backyard so your mom can come stay in it while she's recovering from hip surgery, having a blend of independence -- her own space -- and immediate family support. (You can also do it the other way, they'll drop one for you in your mom's backyard so she can recover at home but you don't have to move IN with her, but medicare doesn't pay for it then.) The company comes and services the utilities every week as part of the rental. This is apparently quite economical compared to living in a rehab facility, and has better recovery rates.

Eyebrows McGee, this sounds incredibly cool and is not something I've heard of before! Would you be willing to link to a site or blog or article with more information? Lack of decent independent living facilities is a huge issue in most places I've lived, and on the outset this seems like such a novel and perfect solution.
posted by schroedinger at 11:29 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


NextDoor Housing!

Here's a Star-Trib article from when they first started out.

They're still fighting with cities about permitting, but they've gotten good support from the state aging agency.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:49 PM on May 27 [11 favorites]


Talking of kitchens, my kitchen is about half the size of the one in the link and I cook a pretty good meal for four people 20 times a week. I have about 2.5sq ft of counter space. It's certainly not ideal, but it's doable. I think this tiny house thing is largely about expectations and organisation. There's a happy middle between the micro places and the giant USAian places.
posted by conifer at 11:52 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Tiny houses are fine, until the weather gets crazy. Blizzards. Heat warnings. 60-mph winds. Rainy season (think keeping dried goods and fabrics dry with all the humidity and no HVAC). The romance goes away pretty fast when you can put your hand on the wall and feel nature's fury (I've been watching the radar reports all evening).

Every tiny house comes with your own entrenching tool, and owners are highly motivated to dig in for tornado-safety, elbow room, or just storage.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:58 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


I live in a stupidly big house for a single person because I had to move further out to be able to afford a place large enough to meet the banks' minimum size requirements for a mortgage without a huge deposit. So now I have a long commute and a house that takes me ages to clean and I have no time because of the commute. Eh. I really think they need to rethink some things to make small places an option for people.

On the other hand, the cats love it. Maybe when they are old they'll accept somewhere smaller but at age 4 they love racing each other up the stairs, accross my room and then crashing into the blinds. Then they race accross my room and into their room and crash into their IKEA tent. Then it's down the stairs, accross the living room and up the cat tree in the dining room. If we downsized I can just see the 'where the fuck is the rest of the house, hoomin?' glares.
posted by kitten magic at 2:48 AM on May 28 [7 favorites]


We had a 1200 sq.ft. Cape with four young kids and only one bathroom. It sucked. After ten years, we moved to a house with theee baths but just over 2000sq.ft. and still only three bedrooms. We redid the kitchen because we all spend a lot of time there; the place isn't a palace. It is the right size for us, though, because we were thoughtful about our actual needs and debt and the timeframe before the kids move out.

I wish the garage was a foot deeper and two feet wider (so many bikes, dammit!), and that a lot of the interior walls weren't stucco, but it's not a mammoth and at the same time we aren't at each others' throats any more.
posted by wenestvedt at 4:38 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


Somebody living in a tiny house who says "we like our space. And we don't have that. There's no room" just gets the tiny violin from me.
posted by entropone at 5:08 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Those who did not read Shelter are forever condemned to repeat the disastrous history that was DomeBook.

In other words, build a home like it is a layout problem with an environmental solution, not a materials problem with a technological solution.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:25 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: no one cooks because they're afraid that if they eat that they'll have to use the compost toilet.
posted by Splunge at 9:47 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


second side of the sink

This is a thing? I was not aware. Every place I've lived has a sink of single basin in the kitchen.
posted by mephron at 12:23 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Those who did not read Shelter are forever condemned to repeat the disastrous history that was DomeBook.

You know when the biggest proponent of a magic bullet form of housing pulls their own super-popular book out of print and advocates against said magic bullet for forty years, there may be something wrong. Domes look pretty, but don't do anything better than square houses. Tiny houses are romantic and cute, but they solve no problems except "how can I spend X times as much per square foot and feel like I'm a radical against The System?"

I'm a former fanboy turned grouchy skeptic after wading through the virtue-signaling propaganda to the other side, though amusingly I'm in the process of building one right now, with an 8x8 footprint and the most luxurious outhouse in the history of luxury privies. It's not so much a remaking of my plastic fantastic Madison Avenue ticky-tacky lifestyle (oh, fuck you, Malvina Reynolds, you patronizing dick), as it is intended to be a permanent waterproof ratless tent for my sojourns when I want to read and/or write a book while listening to freight trains. Tiny houses are perfect for that sort of thing, though it's cheaper and cuter to just get a used Scotty.
posted by sonascope at 12:24 PM on May 28 [6 favorites]


This is a thing? I was not aware. Every place I've lived has a sink of single basin in the kitchen.

Seriously? I have seen them in many homes in the UK, Canada and the US for the last 30 years. It wasn't at all a surprise to see one in a modern RV.
posted by Brockles at 12:30 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


If you as a couple want to share a Tiny House, I suggest a looooonnng road trip together first. I think it was Dan Savage who pointed out that divorce rates started rising once people started regularly riding around in cars. If you can do that without wanting to strangle your partner as the road zips by at 80 mph and they just won't shut up about politics you disagree with, you'll navigate a Tiny House together just fine. More seriously, I knew a couple that rented a tiny trailer, sold their house and travelled the country in it for years. They never seemed to mind the lack of space. However, they were both physically slight. I mention all this because I do think the smaller the space gets the more the little things matter. Including basically being able to get along and to fit in the same space.
posted by Crystal Fox at 2:05 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


"I'm just glad the geodesic dome seems to be quite sincerely dead to all but the most ignorantly starry-eyed among us."

I want one still, but only so I can paint it to look like a lady bug (I'm not even joking, were we rich, I would have a dome home painted like that.)

My husband and I lived in a 624 square foot home for five years. I grew up with four siblings, two parents in a home under 1000 square feet. We now live in a house that is just over 1400 square feet.

I will not go back to 624 square feet. Right now, I'm in one room playing on the internet and getting ready to do some embroidery. The husband is playing some COD III and can have it as loud as he wants without me wanting to strangle him.

In the 624 sq. ft place, we didn't have enough space to be apart. I love him, but sometimes, I just need to be away from him physically. A tiny home sounds like hell to me.

Plus, I am disabled and my damn gimp scooter and crutches would take up most of the space in a tiny house.
posted by SuzySmith at 2:31 PM on May 28 [4 favorites]


I just need somewhere to hang my hat. And that is why I live under a hook that I hammered into a dead tree. The hammer wasn't even mine, I rented it for ten minutes. Only needed it for two but they only do ten minute increments. Talk about screwing the little guy!
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:35 PM on May 28 [23 favorites]


Brockles - what's stopping me currently is: unemployment, which means I'm burning through savings, which means I can't afford an RV (and/or the truck, if needed) plus living expenses, and three cats that only moderately get along in a large apartment, let alone a 30' or less RV.

Other than that, nothing. My family has essentially cut me off, and I have no kids, spouse, or property. My chosen family would be sad but they can visit or vice versa. So this is fixable if/when I get a remote job, except for the cats, who will probably live forever out of sheer spite.
posted by AFABulous at 3:37 PM on May 28


People complaining about lack of washer/dryers - do you know how many people use laundromats for years and years and years? Yeah, it's ultimately more expensive but you save space in your RV/house and the tiny ones are shitty and noisy anyway.

The dishwashing conversation reminds me of the fact that in a tiny space, you're forced to get into the habit of cleaning every single day. You have zero room to cook if you haven't washed last night's dishes. You'll smell the garbage if you don't take it out every day. You can't leave stuff laying around because there's just no room. You have to empty the sewer tanks/compost toilet regularly. Developing those habits will serve you well in a bigger place.
posted by AFABulous at 3:47 PM on May 28 [4 favorites]


I bought way too much house. I had no idea how hard it would be to maintain. But, about the only way to buy a house in texas without a Homeowner Association is to buy land, and old houses. Anyway, I love the tiny house shows, but I've long said it would only work for us if each one of us had our own tiny home, and there was a house that was just the kitchen, and one or two for just the books, and then we'd still need the sheds for tractor and tools, and so I've given up on downsizing until mowgli and friends go to college.

Edit to add, we thought about building Mowgli his own tiny house, but since the city incorporated our neighborhood, its now illegal to build anything smaller than 2600 sq ft, which is obscene.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 4:32 PM on May 28 [4 favorites]


its now illegal to build anything smaller than 2600 sq ft, which is obscene.

That is crazy.

I lived in an 800 sq ft house in L.A. surrounded by hundreds or thousands of houses that big. We didn't think it was big, but we didn't know it was anything odd, it was probably the biggest place I'd lived in, and I was almost 40 when I sold it.

Here in the ATL suburbs people are looking at our house and think it's too small at 2000 sq ft. We thought it was huge when we moved in.

We've always thought the perfect place would be a bunch of small buildings like you described.
posted by bongo_x at 4:52 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


One of the things that happens when property values start getting high is that laundromats and other businesses that cater to a mostly lower income clientele get priced out of the area.

There used to be several laundromats in my area, now there's one within ten miles, and it's probably only still there because it's in a really strange, difficult to access location. (Get this: It's in a tiny old strip mall directly off a multi lane highway, so you come around this bend, then have to make a sharp right into the dilapidated, extremely narrow parking lot in front. The parking lot is raised, so the curbs are high, and if there's an oversized vehicle like an extended cab truck parked in one of the spots facing the stores, you often can't even get around it, and if you try and miss, going off that curb would be really bad, so you have to back OUT of this parking lot onto a highway with traffic coming around the bend at 60+ MPH. And I don't think there's even a way to legally walk there from any public area. So anyway, I'm assuming that's why the rents are still affordable enough for a laundromat.)
posted by ernielundquist at 5:00 PM on May 28 [7 favorites]


We've always thought the perfect place would be a bunch of small buildings like you described.

Among my many hair brained schemes for 'give me a decent budget and some land and the blessing of the planning department' involves something similar. I'd like to get some rail cars and put them haphazardly around a relatively central patio area. Open air kitchen and open fire, stone pizza oven and comfortable places to sit around a pond/gentle fountain. Mostly covered walkways (like bamboo structures or vine covered lattice or something) between them, with a car for different things.

Master Bedroom car
Inside kitchen and dining car
Movie theatre and music car
Lounge/living room car
Guest bedroom cars
Workshop car (duh - from an old commercial one - easiest to build).

Some landscaping between them to make everything be close but relatively private. Ideally in a clearing in a wood on a slope. I figure I could do the same thing with tiny homes, but rail cars are cooler. Maybe even the master bedroom could be an old plane, actually. That'd be awesome.
posted by Brockles at 5:07 PM on May 28 [15 favorites]


My wife always smiles and goes "huh" non-commitally when I get into too much detail on that one, by the way. It is not a 'huh' that reeks too much of 'that's great, I am 100% onboard', if I'm honest.
posted by Brockles at 5:08 PM on May 28 [18 favorites]


"things your spouse says 'huh' too" <---bookmarking for a future online discussion.
posted by mecran01 at 5:09 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I've lived most of my 61 years in the Seattle suburbs and have never lived in a place without a two basin kitchen sink. I'm thinking if I didn't, that what two separate dish pans are for.

I live with my wife and two adult sons in a 1000 sq. ft. apartment. The "boys" have to share a room, of course (neither of them have regular jobs, one is in college). We will be moving this summer, probably into an apartment just like this one because we can't afford a three bedroom. When we do, the guys will get the bigger bedroom, so they will have a little more space (and won't have to stack their bunk beds).

We have to pay for a storage unit. Partly because my wife is a collector of stuff, partly to keep some of the excellent furniture she inherited from her parents we don't any other place for. I, too, would be happy to chuck 75% of the stuff around here; I can comfortably say that because most of the stuff I'd chuck isn't mine. I've already downsized myself. I can't force it on the rest of the family.
posted by lhauser at 5:47 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


put into second side of the sink

Luxury.
posted by bendy at 6:37 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


A funny thing the tiny house holdouts will discover is how you develop tight little habits like arthritis-gnarled hands, which is why, after thirty years of gourmet cooking in the 4'x8' counterless kitchenette in my maisonette, I find that I can't really spread out and cook large on the sprawling granite countertops in my new gentleman caller's house.

I don't need more space—I've learned to cook with perfect precision mise en place, but it sure looks odd to the uninitiated, like I'm presenting the world's tiniest cooking show.
posted by sonascope at 6:49 PM on May 28 [10 favorites]


I'm just packing to move into a larger place. It's frankly got more square footage overall than I wanted, but it's still considered on the "small" side for my city at c. 1600 sf, and much of that square footage is from a huge added on family room. While that room is ridiculously large for one person, I like that overall the new place is a much more sensible use of space than you see in modern homes in that there are tiny bedrooms and a large social space. While I'm bummed that I can't realize my dream of getting a queen size bed in what will be my bedroom, a friend pointed out that, really, the whole house is my master bedroom. The current model of palatial master bedrooms freak me out. I like the coziness of the new space, a similarly cozy space for my guests (I have parents and friends who want to come for long visits, so much of my impulse to move was driven by my desire to have a dedicated private guest room for their comfort), and then a big space for hanging out/working from home. So I'm in agreement with EM and others: I don't want a tiny house, but I do want more efficient and well-planned living spaces and I do hope that that part of the tiny house trend will carry over to larger houses.
posted by TwoStride at 7:34 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


PS: pull the drawers out, lay a cutting board across the top and boom, more counter space.

Or, if live with the kind of kitchen I do (and shitty kitchens are near ubiquitous in British rentals), lay a cutting board across the top and boom, broken kitchen drawers all over the floor!
posted by Dysk at 5:26 AM on May 29 [11 favorites]


One of the nice things about living in a depopulated rust-belt city was that you could live in giant spaces for nothing. My ex- and I bought a six bedroom 3000 sq. foot edwardian four-square with stained-glass windows, ornate mantles and a magnificent wood-paneled three-story staircase in a walkable neighborhood for the royal price of $42K when we were in our mid-twenties. Sadly Pittsburgh's been discovered since then and prices aren't quite that jaw-droppingly low these days.
posted by octothorpe at 5:53 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]


Or, if live with the kind of kitchen I do (and shitty kitchens are near ubiquitous in British rentals), lay a cutting board across the top and boom, broken kitchen drawers all over the floor!

Dysk, my kitchen is made from contractor-grade materials, so while I wouldn't pound out chicken breasts that way, it's certainly strong enough to hold a rack to cool cookies. Discovering that space made baking and cooking much more practical. They also make cutting boards/covers that are designed to fit on top of your stove, which is very handy if you're baking or arranging a cold meal. (These are all designed to fit on standard size stoves, which is too big for my 3/4-scale stove, but I got an enormous glass cutting board at a discount place for a few dollars and now it serves as an easy to clean backsplash when not in use.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:57 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


I can't pull my kitchen drawer (singular) more than halfway out unless it's empty. The board itself would be enough to break it. I wish this was remarkable, but for around here, it isn't.
posted by Dysk at 7:44 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I would rest a (not hot) baking sheet on one of my drawers, but I definitely wouldn't trust the way they are built to use a pulled out drawer as a work surface. My old house, with old and extremely over-built drawers, would have been fine for that, though -- it's all in the construction. I've had kitchens like Dysk describes, where you can't even pull out drawers all the way, and where they fall of the tracks just pushing them back in. Bad rental kitchens are the worst.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:24 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I have an idea, how about putting like six tiny houses next to each other and then taking out the adjoining walls. You'd get a lot more space!

For a few years I've been seriously considering replacing my garden shed with a cool prefab modern office shed to use as my studio. You don't need to get permits for something under 120sqft here. So tiny working but not living.
posted by misterpatrick at 11:38 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


We use a lot of pre-loaded portable work spaces in shipping containers at work. Like Brockles' rail car idea, I've often though of making a little village in my back yard of shop, garden, storage, tiki bar (ok, maybe not that one) containers with open-up sides and awnings. I'd make them look nice, not like a freight yard.

Municipal code strictly forbids shipping containers, and the rules on structure size, total area, and setback pretty effectively prevent a little village of small spaces, even if they're not houses to live in.
posted by ctmf at 4:34 PM on May 29


A few years ago I bought a house in an inner-city neighborhood in Saskatoon: my house was built in the 20s, and most of the housing stock was put up between 1912 and 1930. Most of the lots are 30 feet wide: a few are 50; the two story houses on the 30 foot lots are around 1200 square feet; the bungalows are about 800 (this doesn't include basements). The wider lots have slightly bigger houses, maybe around 1600 sq ft at the largest.

None of these seem egregiously small: mine is 2 stories with 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms; it's about 1300 square feet. I'm taken aback to realize that I'm one enclosed porch away from being part of the 'tiny house' movement...

But seriously -- MOST of the housing stock built before 1970 is reasonably sized.
posted by jrochest at 12:10 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. Great big houses with way too many sq. feet? Wasteful. So much space to heat, to cool. Tiny houses? Cute. Probably quite efficient for heating and cooling. Yeah, we could solve homelessness, except people need proper indoor plumbing. Running clean water is awesome; just ask the folks in Flint, who would like to have some. Flush toilets and waste treatment? Critical to public health and safety. I love hand built homes, but an awful lot of building code requirement exist to keep you from dying in a fire, getting killed by methane because the plumbing wasn't vented correctly, etc. RVs are not typically well built, or particularly efficient, although they could be. Tiny houses are a pretty good solution for a cabin. I live in 1000 sq. ft. and could happily live in a smaller space, esp, with adequate storage. Having a big deck with a pleasant view helps - if Maine ever gets remotely warm enough to use it. le sigh.

I'd quite like aggregate living - townhouses, similar to the UK or Europe, so you can have a patch of garden and still be able to walk to the shops. I like being part of a neighborhood.

The tiny house movement is frequently twee and unrealistic, but I like their idealism.
posted by theora55 at 9:06 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I have a strange fascination for tiny houses, although I don't think I could ever manage to live in one. Maybe it is a climate thing -- I can't imagine being cooped up in such a small space all winter long. I always think of tiny houses as parasitic houses, as in pretty well every show I've seen about them the tiny house is parked in the driveway or backyard of a friend or family member, and life in the tiny house is only manageable through a parasitic relationship with the big house.

My family of four lives in a bungalow that is under 900 sg ft. That is small enough for me.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:33 AM on May 31 [2 favorites]


We live in a 3rd floor walkup, ~650 square feet: 2 adults, 1 preschooler, 2 large cats.

Pros:
-Forces you to be thoughtful about what you need
-Can vacuum entire house without unplugging vacuum
-Can unload the dishwasher without taking any steps
-No need to shout upstairs to get someone's attention... there is no upstairs
-Quite efficient to heat/cool

Cons:
-It is virtually impossible to do workouts indoors, definitely not possible for 2 adults at the same time
-Can't watch movies, have loud conversations, play music, etc., while kid is sleeping because nothing is more than like 20 feet away from his door.
-Cat litter box is next to our bed, because that is better than it being in the kitchen or next to the couch
-Can't practice musical instruments at night, while kid is sleeping, too early in the morning, etc.
-Can't have more than 2-3 people over to eat because there isn't space for everyone to sit down
-No room for a printer or any proper office; this is a headache when your careers are scientist and high school teacher
-Even when the place is both organized and very clean, it does not necessarily look that way because there is inadequate storage space
-Guests need to sleep on a cot in the living room
-There are all kinds of inconveniences that occur when you have only 1 toilet for 3 people
-If you want to do any projects, i.e. sewing, painting, crafts, electronics, you necessarily take over the table which is the only surface available for such things. This is a huge pain in the ass, and nobody wants to take out and put away the sewing machine 3 times in a single day. It means we almost never get to do as much creative work as we would like to.
-Very little privacy. If the kid cries or has a night terror I spent at least 50% of my energy worrying about whether we'll get an angry note from the neighbors this time. If he wants to run at 7 AM I have to tell him no.
-No yard. MAJOR downside in my opinion.

We're moving in a few months. I have a lot of anxiety about privilege creep and I constantly remind myself how extremely fortunate I am. But the truth is, having enough space so that each person in the family can "do their own thing" simultaneously is going to be really, really amazing.
posted by Cygnet at 10:46 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Culturally, culturally, culturally class specific (WEIRD). Argh.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 8:04 PM on June 2


This one just came across my tiny house feed -- a tiny bookshop owned by a guy who goes from little town to little town (in France), selling used books in places that no longer have bookshops and telling stories at night. It has a bathroom, a little food prep space, a loft bedroom, and the rest of it is a bookshop. There's a cat. It is magic.

Here's the French page.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:36 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


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