By this point, photos of tiny houses are everywhere. I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen at least one pint-size abode that made you pause to imagine how simple your life might be if you lived in such an efficient little space.
I’ve done more than my fair share of imagining, having watched Kirsten Dirksen’s We the Tiny House People documentary and leafed through Lloyd Kahn’s alternative building books more times than I can count.
I even graduated from voyeur to full-blown stalker when I started visiting tiny homes in person this year.
I’ve visited tiny houses from downtown Portland to suburban Montreal. I’ve spent the night in a tiny-house eco-resort on the bank of Québec’s Saint Lawrence River and I’ve fallen in love with (what I think is) the prettiest tiny house, nestled in the appropriately tiny town of Kamouraska, Québec.
Through all my tiny-home stalking, I’ve come to understand that, like most things, they’re more than the pretty pictures we take of them. They’re part of an important social movement that stands in stark contrast to the “bigger is better” mentality. Here’s why you should be paying attention to them, too:
1. They give people the freedom to live their best lives
During a visit to a tiny house in suburban Montreal, the owner revealed to me that her tiny home cost her less than a quarter of her previous conventional home. In today’s uncertain economy, the value and peace of mind that financial security provides is not something we can underestimate. The affordability of building a tiny house to live in is giving people of all ages and income brackets a financially sustainable housing option that allows them to save for retirement, get out of debt, and work less.
They’re part of an important social movement that stands in stark contrast to the “bigger is better” mentality.
2. They’re ultra-efficient
By nature, tiny houses are more sustainable than their larger counterparts because they don’t need as many bulbs to illuminate them or as much energy to heat them. Their small size also limits their homeowners’ material consumption because there’s not enough space to accumulate nonessential “stuff.”
In addition to these inherent environmental benefits, many tiny-home builders are choosing to up the green ante by installing solar panels and energy-efficient windows. I recently stayed in a tiny eco-resort that featured a composting toilet that required zero water and zero power to operate.
I’ve seen the benefits of such efficient, simple living firsthand through my time living in a van with no running water, toilet, or fridge this past summer, but I understand that living in a van is not for everyone. Tiny houses, on the other hand, are a perfect example of just how comfortable and accessible sustainable living can be.
3. Their designs are incredible and unique
Tiny-house builders can afford to create stunning structures and designs using locally sourced wood and state-of-the-art technology because the square footage of their building, and therefore their costs, are so modest. I’ll always remember when I stepped into a tiny home in Quebec that belonged in the centerfold of an interior design magazine. Its white walls and wood floors created a welcoming ambience that made the house seem a lot larger than it really was. This cozy and cheerful space was proof that living in a tiny house isn’t all about sacrifice — it can be pleasant, comfortable, and trendy.
4. They foster a sense of community
Parking a tiny house in someone’s backyard or driveway naturally forms a relationship between the tiny-house dweller and the homeowner. It might not seem like a big deal, but extending the average nuclear family to include just one more person or family creates a tiny community of sorts, which in turn generates the sense of belonging that we all crave.
Dee Williams, a tiny-house pioneer, gave a perfect example of this micro-community-building effect in her book, The Big Tiny, which I picked up while touring her tiny home in Portland. More than a decade ago, her friends allowed her to move her tiny house into their backyard in exchange for taking care of their elderly aunt next door. This arrangement gave Dee a place to live, the aunt an attentive caregiver, and the family a friendly neighbor.
The benefits of living tiny are truly inspiring, and for that reason, I’m going to continue with my tiny-house stalking until the day I settle down to build my own.