Take a hashtag trip around Twitter and Instagram, and you may notice an unexpected housing trend. Instead of upsizing, it’s the #tinyhouse. Everyone’s downgrading to adorably small homes packed full of fun features.
I know some of these people. Two of my close friends recently decided to downsize from their suburban sprawl to a much humbler abode with two small children. (They are truly the brave souls among us.) Just a month after their not-so-big move, they’re overwhelmed — and elated. They say they can’t imagine going back.
Tiny houses were once the norm, but in the past 40 years, they’ve gone the way of the dinosaur. Large homes didn’t become en vogue until the Reagan years, says Richard C. Kelleher, M.B.A., marketing sociologist. “Before that, everyone had small homes — throughout history (ignore those castles). Reagan — Dynasty, Dallas — propagated the need for a big home. I grew up in a 700-square-foot home and now live in 1,000 square feet and have more room than I need.”
“Historically, my home is huge, considering throughout history homes were 800 square foot or smaller,” says Kelleher. “[I] think those with 2,000-square-foot-homes are over-indulgent.”
We can thank this back-to-basics mentality for the fact that tiny houses are popping everywhere. Spurring on the tiny house movement, with a return to smaller-than-1000-square-foot homes at the start of the new millennium, the Small House Society was founded in 2002. “Tiny living” has been chronicled on countless tiny house sites and blogs, like The Tiny Life, Simple Babe and, most remarkably, Life in 120 Square Feet, where blogger Laura LaVoie documents her adventures living in a 120-square-foot cabin with her partner and cat.
Why go tiny house?
There’s no two ways about it: Tiny houses are trending, but I still haven’t explained why. Many millennials are embracing the tiny house movement because it just makes sense — living small can make the rest of your life look bigger in comparison. Downgrading to a much smaller home means you can purge unwanted belongings, slash your mortgage and reduce your environmental footprint. Affordable and economical tiny houses are the norm, interspersed with a few “tricked out” models with fancy features. Compared to the average DIY tiny house estimated at $23,000, a luxury tiny house could run you as much as $124,900, or roughly $310 per square foot.
Luxury tinies aside, it’s the money factor that makes tiny houses so attractive to millennials, says Melissa De Luna-Ribeiro of Joybird Furniture, a company focused on the trend-shifting perception of what’s valuable and authentic for millennials. De Luna-Ribeiro confirms that tiny houses are hot because most millennials aren’t looking for more “stuff.” They’re looking for an experience. “A lot of millennials have very big balances from their student loans and are still recovering from our recent economic downfall. This movement easily saves them money due to less maintenance and utility bills,” she explains. “By living with less, millennials have the ability to come and go, while feeling lighter. There is a sense of decluttering and freshness that comes with really editing your life surroundings. This also brings about a feeling of living large.”
High-end models are out there, but the spirit of the tiny house movement remains the same. Clair Jones, relocation specialist at Movearoo, says, “Tiny homes often provide the same benefits as a normal size home, just compacted intelligently into less space. [Some] can be very luxurious, made with high-quality materials that you might never be able to afford to incorporate into a larger build because of cost concerns.”
As a housing and relocation expert in the process of collecting materials and saving to build her own tiny home, Jones shares the four biggest benefits of considering a tiny house:
- Cheap. They are extremely affordable and are a great solution for millennials who don’t have the capital to afford a large home or the desire to stay in one place. With so many young people being forced to move back into their parents’ homes, this is a very viable alternative.
- Flexible. If you aren’t sure what city you will end up living in, a tiny home can be a way to take your home with you wherever you go.
- Forward-thinking. Tiny homes are a revolution in solving the problem of homelessness. They can be built for as little as $3,000 using recycled materials and require little maintenance once constructed.
- Green. Tiny homes have a very small environmental footprint and use far less energy than a normal home. Many of them are designed to use solar power as their primary energy source and can function off the grid.
Bonnie Dewkett, Certified Professional Organizer, is another housing expert who melts at the thought of downsizing to a tiny house. “I love the tiny house movement,” she says, listing benefits like less monetary obligations that can free up extra cash for travel, less square footage and furniture to clean and less space to heat and cool, meaning cheaper utilities. She adds, “When you can see everything you own, it all gets used. You’re getting your money’s worth out of everything you buy/own.”
How to go tiny house
After everything you’ve read, I know what you’re thinking: A tiny house sounds awesome — in theory. But daydreaming of living the simple life (and socking away all that extra cash for an epic vacation) is much different than actually putting your big house on the market and moving into an itty-bitty.
If you’re on the tiny fence, there are a few resources you can consider to determine if a little move is right for you. First, get in the right mind frame by taking a fun little quiz to find out your tiny house personality. Then, do your homework: Zillow’s helpful Tiny Home Checklist provides 10 important questions to ask yourself before you decide to go “small.” Portland Alternative Dwellings explains the options in the tiny house movement. Tiny House Giant Journey has an extensive collection of photos and videos for those new to tiny living. And The Tiny House Blog offers a complete breakdown of how to go tiny, room by room.
“Whether or not tiny house living is for you is largely dependent on your priorities in life. If you love collectibles, can’t bring yourself to part with your one hundred pairs of shoes or have a hobby that requires an excessive amount of storage space, you might be better off sticking with a conventional home.” says Jones, “That doesn’t mean that you can’t have plenty of indulgences; I’ve seen tiny homes with full-sized soaking tubs, walk-in closets and even rooftop balconies with a hammock. You simply have to be smarter about your choices and really think about the functionality and value of everything you bring into your space.”