Are We Ready to Live Smaller with the Tiny House Lifestyle?

Rudy Tardin

How much space do you need to live comfortably? Better yet, how much space in your home goes to waste? Although not complex questions, they do require some thought. The ramifications left in the wake of the Great Recession have caused more people to consider a shift in efficient living and scaling down, including their homes.

Nvate small house movement, tiny home lifestyle by Tumbleweed and Ideabox small house society, greg johnson

This is the Weebee model small house made by tiny house company Tumbleweed. It sleeps one to two people and is 105 square feet. It retails for $49,000 premade. Credit: Tumbleweed

Dubbed the “small house movement,” homeowners began constructing and living in freestanding houses a fourth of the size of the average home with some amassing to a mere couple hundred square feet. Simplified living initially appealed to the frugal and the environmentally-conscious individuals. After all, small living equals small costs. Architecture with clever, unique and modern designs has these homes creating a greater mass appeal. But in a country where bigger is better, can the small housing trend develop into a permanent lifestyle change for a large segment of Americans?

Many people are shrinking aspects of their lives. Not too long ago, Hummers and large sports utility vehicles populated the roads and squeezed down narrow neighborhood streets. In recent years, as higher fuel prices became the norm, people replaced those SUVs and other gas-guzzlers with the Mini Cooper, Smart Car, Fiat, and other zippy compacts that give drivers double the gas mileage. Even in dire times, consumerism continues to run through the veins of 21st century America with every shopping spree taken. Let’s face it—we love to buy things. Therefore, tiny homes may take longer to catch on.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average home size was still a robust 2,400 square feet in 2010. For six years, Greg Johnson lived in a miniature 140-square-foot home equipped with the equivalent functions of the average home. “People still want to live an abundant life, but they don’t have much stuff anymore,” said Johnson, who is the co-founder of the Small House Society, an outreach group that promotes smaller housing alternatives. “Everything’s digital. They don’t need much space.”

Nvate small house movement, tiny home lifestyle by Tumbleweed and Ideabox small house society, greg johnson

This is Greg Johnson standing on the porch of his small house. Credit: Greg Johnson

Johnson said he realized he wasn’t using much of the space in his apartment at the time after coming home to work in his office and then going straight to bed. Simplifying his living situation made sense to him, which he claims was not a difficult decision to make. Others might find it harder to part with personal possessions. Though mini in stature and built on a movable trailer, his dwelling provided the bare necessities including a desk space to work, kitchenette to eat and area to sleep, essentially not changing his daily routine while living there.

Johnson believes in the potential of tiny house communities and the small house movement becoming an adopted lifestyle by many. “The people that are really into this, they want to be smaller than 700 square feet. They want to be 500, 400, 300 square feet,” he said. He hopes to set up more Small House Society offices across the country as resources to further develop these communities.

Lyndsey Lewis, a blogger for “At Home in Arkansas,” writes about living in a two-bedroom small house she had built and moved into in 2012. “I’ve had to really think hard about what I’ve got, why I’ve got it, and whether or not I really need it,” she wrote during its construction. The efficiently designed Whidbey cottage, which Lewis calls her dream home, includes a full kitchen, a great room with a fireplace, a full bath, and a loft in addition to the bedrooms. All of this contained within about 700-square-feet of space. “Building a small home was never about jumping into a movement, or starting one for that matter. For me, downsizing was part of my pilgrimage toward simplicity,” she posted. Lewis also enjoys having a $56 electricity bill each month.

Challenges persist for the small house movement to grow and can hamper someone’s desire to live a simpler life this way. Many municipalities have minimum square footage requirements for freestanding houses, which allows towns to outright ban tiny homes. “We’ve got people living in 200, 300-square-foot apartments and nobody thinks twice,” said Johnson questioning the legality. These houses are not cheap with some exceeding $200 per square foot to build. The price of an average single-family home sold for about $83 per square foot in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau housing data. Johnson’s little house on wheels cost $39,000 new.

Nvate small house movement, tiny home lifestyle by Tumbleweed and Ideabox small house society, greg johnson

This is the interior of the Aktiv model home by Ideabox. Credit: Ideabox

Companies like Tumbleweed, which built Johnson’s to-go house, and Ideabox design modernized, energy-efficient small homes, which could be the link for the simplified lifestyle idea to really catch on. Ideabox aspires to create an ultimate lifestyle by “delivering a cool house.” The company’s latest Aktiv line of prefabricated homes is a Swedish-inspired flat designed around Ikea furniture systems that are fully loaded with state-of-the-art appliances and wood floors. The 745-square-foot Aktiv model goes for about $86,500, according to the listing on Ideabox’s website.

Living small is, quite frankly, a big decision. Then again, we drive tinier cars than we did 10 years ago. We toy more with tablets and laptops instead of glaring at massive desktop computers. Some of us even toned down our diets and eat leaner meals these days. Moving into efficient-sized homes is perhaps not out of the question as the next decreased lifestyle change we incorporate. Just make sure the 50-inch flat screen TV fits.

For more information, visit Johnson’s Small House Society website.

To view homes made by Ideabox, visit their website and for homes by Tumbleweed, visit the Tumbleweed website.

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