Are you a tiny-house person?

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Upon visiting a house advertised as a “tiny house” in a neighborhood near me, it dawned on me that long ago my husband and I had become tiny house folks without knowing it. The term wasn’t around when we started out, so we thought of ourselves as merely living in smaller houses than most people we knew. We liked that there was less housework and maintenance, the places were cozier, heating and cooling them was less expensive and living the simpler life was a creative challenge.

The first tiny house we lived in was a fifth wheel, which is a live-in trailer that hooks to a pick-up that drags it around the country. Living in a 25-foot by 8-foot space (200 square feet) was an adventure, fun and easy, for there was a queen-sized bed in a room with closets and drawers and one small window; there was a narrow hallway through a bathroom with sink on one side, toilet and shower on the other; there was a living room/dining room with couch, table and two benches; and just beyond that a fridge, double sink and four-burner stove with microwave above and oven below.

It was cute – well, once my seamstress friend made new curtains, bench and sofa covers, bedspread and pillow covers. The factory décor was purple flowers on everything, the material having the consistency of thin plastic oilcloth. It felt inflammable and to look at it made me bilious. The night after we bought the fifth wheel trailer, I had a nightmare about having to live with those flowers.

We traveled in the freshly modified décor of a tiny trailer for two years before we understood that we were nesters rather than RVers. We sold it and settled in another trailer that was set on blocks and secured somehow to the ground. Except for the added-on outdoor room that was 20 feet by 10 feet, this trailer was also 200 square feet but had less move-around room, I think because it had a lot of storage space, which we both liked. This unit, too, had to be redecorated, but isn’t that the fun of moving into a new “house”? Even as the toast popped out of my apparently powerful toaster each morning and arched through the air to land on the tiny kitchen table where we ate, I did not think of this abode as a tiny house.

Then we bought a one-room school house that had been moved from the country onto a basement foundation in town. It was 800 square feet, and so was the basement. The clothes closet situation was weak, but the basement made up for that. This tiny house had two bedrooms, a small bathroom, a phone niche, a living room/dining room, a kitchen big enough for a table for two. Nine-foot ceilings made for an illusion of spaciousness. Each room except the kitchen had huge six by three-foot casement windows.

From the outside, the place looked like a postage stamp; once inside, I felt I lived in airy roominess, for the outdoors was right there through those huge, old, wavy-glass windows. Having moved to this place from two different 200-square-foot homes, we did not think of this house as tiny at all.

Now I live in a 1,000-square-foot house with 7-1/2-foot ceilings. A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days at a friend’s place that had 20-foot cathedral ceilings, and when I walked in my own door, I felt like I should be ducking; I got over it in a short while, because this place has lots of windows and a whole wall of sliding glass doors. I get one bedroom, one living room, one kitchen, one dining room, one bathroom, one laundry room and plenty of closet space. It does not seem tiny; in fact, because the kitchen, dining room and living room are open to one another, it seems palatial compared to my former dwellings. And the trees and flowers are peeking in the many windows, which adds to the airiness of the house.

The tiny-house craze is understandable to me because the facts of living thus, in a tiny house, delight me. I get why it has become a popular idea. From the ease of cleaning and repairing them, the decreased expense of living in them, the creativity it takes to accommodate them to your needs, to the cozy feeling of “this place is holding me in its arms,” tiny houses are worth exploring.

There is a wealth of info on the internet (Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses, Tiny House Family, Take a Tour Around This Tiny House Village); on TV (“Tiny House Nation” is one; although I understand that it’s a form of reality show, so I’m not sure what that means to the interested buyer of a tiny house); magazines (Tiny House Magazine), which offer architectural plans, tips and hints, stories from people who like [“My house and I”) and dislike [“Tiny living is the worst”]); to large weekend events (The People’s Tiny House Festival, Colorado Springs August 3-5, 2018; National Tiny House Jamboree, Austin, TX, August 23-26, 2018).

The house I visited that made me realize I am a tiny-house person is 400 square feet of living room/dining room/kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, front porch. It has minimum storage space but is charming; it needs a handyman to come in and add cupboards, shelves, hooks and so forth. But it has lovely big windows that bring the outdoors in, so it seems larger than it is.

The necessity of windows seems important to tiny house, don’t you think?

Many tiny houses are mobile, their wheels hidden by skirting. Many tiny houses come from odd beginnings – chicken houses, corn cribs, fish camps, train cars, container boxes, storage sheds and beach bunkers from WWII. Many are built from scratch out of found materials; many are designed by architects using expensive materials and run on solar and wind. There are tiny tree houses that beg you to come live in them and return to your 10-year-old self; there are fixed-canvas tents, sod houses, clay brick houses, straw and mud and rebar houses, boat houses, barn houses.

Our ancestors, wherever they came from, lived in tiny houses because so many of them were serfs, beholden to kings and aristocracy, peasants worth less than the cattle they took care of. They lived in one-room-for-an-entire-family huts and shanties and cobbled-together, makeshift tiny houses. That 21st-century folks are intrigued by the idea of living in tiny houses is almost ironic. But it is a fact.

To make a decision to live in a tiny house might seem impossible if you are thinking about all the goods you have stashed away in the house you live in now. When my husband and I first went fifth-wheeling, it wasn’t for the tininess but for the adventure. From that we seemed to gravitate to small places, easy-to-take-care of places – we had fallen into a lifestyle we had not sought but discovered fit us and our ideas of what was important to us. We did get rid of nearly everything we owned except for tools, books, antiques and bikes, which we stored for a while. That was an exercise in figuring out what we really could live without – it made us feel lighter than air.

Living in a tiny house is the one of the greenest ways to live on the planet. If you are ecologically minded, this might sway you. It’s easy to find online tiny houses to rent if you need a trial run.

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