What’s With the Tiny House Trend?



By Marni Jameson


You know by now, I’m all for letting go and lightening up. But some folks have taken this to the extreme. Just look at the tiny house movement, which is not tiny.

All across America, people are pitching possessions, eliminating expenses, conserving consumption, and shoehorning themselves into living spaces the size of walk-in closets. This trend toward tiny is the subject of at least two TV shows – HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters and FYI Network’s Tiny House Nation –and much press.

The lifestyle has also captured the attention of many voyeurs, who rightfully ask: What is the appeal of living in a place so small you can do your dishes while lying in bed?

While I was on the road last week talking in various cities about my new book, “Downsizing the Family Home,” audiences everywhere kept asking what I thought about tiny houses.

“I’ve been in the doghouse before, and don’t want to go back,” I said.

At one point, I looked at DC, who was along. He settled the matter fast saying: “Ain’t happening.”

Glad we agree on that.

I don’t want to disparage anyone’s way of life, especially if the choice is between living in a tiny house or in a parent’s basement. I applaud those who want to minimize expenses while paying off student debt. And who can argue with the eco-friendliness of living in a tricked-out tool shed.

But these homes are super dinky, as in between 100 and 400 square feet. (The average new house in America today is 2600, square feet.) Many are as cute as a bug’s ear, and about the same size.

Though I joked about it, the audiences’ questions got me wondering. Figuring I was too old to understand, since mostly millennials are into this, I called my young friend Andrea Signor, of Parker, Colo., a freelance writer, nature lover, and married mother of a one-year-old. Signor, age 30, has always struck me as a beacon of reason. I asked her what she and her friends thought.

“We watch these shows and think these people are nuts,” said Signor, “but we keep watching with this morbid curiosity. We yell at the television: Where are you going to put your bike?”

“They all say, we don’t want possessions, but they have no room for appliances,” she said. “They have a one burner stove. Their 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter share a bed. They have a dorm size frig, so they have to eat out a lot. They can’t have hobbies, because they don’t have room to store their hobby stuff, or a guitar. They can’t watch TV because they don’t have cable. They want this outdoor life, but where do they keep the kayak?”

Signor would like to see the TV shows circle back after several months and ask tiny lifers: How’s that working for you? “I’m convinced it doesn’t work,” said Signor, who with her husband previously lived in an 800-square-foot apartment, and next month will move into a 1500-square-foot, three-bedroom house they just bought. “But I do find it fascinating.”

After we hang up, Signor sends me a link to an article she said got her friends talking. It posed an excellent question. How do you, ummm, do anything but sleep in these tiny-house beds, which are usually bunks situated close to the ceiling.

You don’t, unless you’re really into yoga and can canoodle in a birdcage.

Now a tiny house may not be your teacup, but for those intrigued by the idea, I called the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, one of the pioneers in the tiny house movement, to get some insights into what inquiring minds want to know:

  • What’s behind this trend? “The tiny house lifestyle is catching on because of TV shows, newspaper stories and social media,” said Ryan Potter, spokesman for the Sonoma, Calif., based company. But the underlying draw is a desire, mostly among young adults, for financial freedom, an eco-friendly existence, simplicity, and ease of moving — most tiny houses are on wheels.
  • How has the trend grown? For example, Tumbleweed, whose houses have been the subject of at least one episode on Tiny House Nation, started in 1999, Potter said. Up until a few years ago, the company built only about one house a month, if that. Production soared in 2013 and now, the average is closer to 12 to 15 tiny houses a month.
  • How much do they cost? The average price for a Tumbleweed Tiny House, customized and out the door is $80,000, he said. However, on his website tiny lifer Ryan Mitchell, founder of thetinylife.com, says: “The average tiny house person spends around $20,000 and does the work themselves.”
  • How’s resale? In a world where real estate values still – right or wrong — rely on price per square footage, a tiny house may not seem like a good investment, but Potter said some tiny homes are classified as RVs, so they’re in a different category.
  • What’s the most common question? “The number one question is where do I put my tiny house,” said Potter. Some zoning laws forbid them. Some owners buy plots of land, others park on a relative’s property, and some rent space in a trailer park. People also want to know about the toilet. How that works. I’ll bet.
  • And the biggest problem? Space between each other, said Potter. “If a husband and wife have some tension, it’s hard to find cool down space.”

I’ll take the breathing room, thank you.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016).