In her article titled “I Can’t Stop Looking at Photos of Absurdly Tiny Homes” on the Atlantic Cities blog yesterday, Emily Badger questions why we tiny house enthusiasts are so obsessed.

“There is something oddly alluring about smartly designed but freakishly small spaces. I know this because enough other people must be into these things to warrant the steady stream of them flowing from my Twitter feed. I also know this because I have never met a link promising a teeny tiny home that I was not compelled to click on.”

She interviews Mimi Zieger about the obsession around tiny houses and ends up constructing a typology of tiny house enthusiasts with her.  I’m not sure if they hit on all the categories, but they certainly covered the majority.  Below is a summary:

Walden types – those who are driven by reducing their environmental footprint and simple living.

Do-It-Yourselfers (DIYers) – those who are driven by the challenge of building something themselves.

Design types – those who are motivated by the cuteness of the tiny house.  Emily, the author, doesn’t feel like the cuteness category fully encompasses her obsession, so she asks Mimi “what about those people who like puzzles?”  Those inspired by the design challenge of building a small space?

“There’s just something elegant about squeezing so much utility out of something so small. Every component must be thoughtful and integrated. And a puzzler can appreciate the clever solution of turning a bookshelf into a dining table, even if you don’t want to eat on one in yourself.”

I think she’s on to something here.  A lot of my interest in the tiny house movement comes from the innovation and creativity I see in every project: simple designs I find for storing kitchenware, a cool fold-down deck, or a drawer bed that slides out from under the floor.  Like the author and unlike a Walden type, I am not as much motivated in ridding myself of belongings (in fact I fully expect to have a small storage unit for my outdoor gear and off-season clothes) as I am in finding a way to reduce to the essentials and challenge myself to find innovative ways to live within those boundaries of a small space with limited items.

Tiny Homeless Shelters (TinyHouseDesign.com)

However, I think one huge category that was not highlighted in this article are those who are motivated by the economics of tiny house living.  There is a reason the tiny house movement has taken off in the last few years.  With the uncertainty in the job market and foreclosures across the nation, people, both young and old, are looking for creative ways to live that don’t require a 30-year mortgage eating up half or more of their annual salary.  Young women are building these (according to Jay Schafer of Tumbleweed Tiny Homes young women may currently be the largest growing demographic of tiny home builders, see this example), adults taking care of elderly parents are building them (Son Builds Tiny House for his Mother), and students are building them as a way to save money while creating a separate space from their parents (see this 16-year-old’s tiny house).

In an October 2011 interview on Crosscurrents from KALW with several tiny house builders Stephen Marshall, owner of the company Little House on a Trailer, mentions what he sees in his tiny house business: those who are motivated by environmental concerns may stop and look at his houses, but it is those motivated by economic concerns who actually buy them (listen to or read the whole news story).  And this is the difference between those who are simply obsessed with looking at tiny houses online versus those who are actually building tiny houses.  When you read the blogs of tiny house builders you will almost always find them explaining their economic incentives for building tiny in addition to the fun and creative challenges of reducing their belongings and becoming more environmentally-conscious.

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General, Lee
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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Great post. I am obsessed with small things… I have a small car (a VW TDI golf) named Chico (which means small in spanish) and a small dog! I admire the ingenuity it takes to make something work in a small space. And I am drawn to thriftiness and an economical use of materials, by necessity, but also just because it seems smarter and more challenging to build small. We’ll see how it is to live in 200 sf though… I am a little nervous about feeling cramped and not having room to do yoga! but the other morning I did yoga out on the lawn, practicing for living in the tiny house, and it was wonderful. being outside in the cool morning air, hearing the birds chirping. so I think it will be fine. :)
    – Carrie
    http://clotheslinetinyhomes.com

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    • Yes, that’s one of my biggest concerns too – where to do yoga! I just figure I’ll get an unlimited yoga pass at a nearby studio. I’m curious how you and your partner are planning on living together in a tiny house – that’s very admirable! I just stepped inside a Fencl today and it seems so small – and that’s just for me – one person1

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