When I was in elementary school, my dad bought a pop-up camper from Craigslist. We took it out a few times, but mostly my sister and I just used it as a playhouse in the driveway. My dad set up a small TV inside, and we would curl up on the slightly uncomfortable, hideous orange mattresses and watch Disney movies by the light of the single bulb in the ceiling. Ever since, I’ve been hooked on the idea of portable living.
If you have Internet connection, you have no doubt seen a photo or two of a tiny house. For the past few years, they’ve been shrinking in size but growing in popularity. It seems more and more people are giving up full-sized houses for miniature ones, selling their possessions and accepting a minimalist lifestyle.
But the tiny lifestyle isn’t all solar panels and roses — it’s an extreme adjustment. For some, it involves more than just downsizing their belongings; it requires completely retraining themselves. Since the mid-20th century, America has been overwhelmed by commercialism. The tiny house movement goes against the “bigger is better” way of thinking, forcing homeowners to work with the space they have instead of expanding when they get too cramped. When it comes to tiny living, “cramped” is kind of the point.
According to the popular blog “The Tiny Life,” a tiny house is usually between 100 and 400 square feet. Compare that to the average size of an American home, 2,600 square feet, and you can see just how tiny “tiny” really is.
Still, plenty of tiny housers have found a way to make their homes more than comfortable. Perhaps the most well-known name in the tiny world is Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, one of the first and largest sellers of pre-constructed tiny homes and tiny home plans. Their first house was built on a trailer in 1999. Today, they host workshops all over the country. Their website even includes a “Design Yours” page where visitors can choose each and every detail of their home, from the layout to the lighting fixtures to the type of toilet, and have it shipped almost anywhere in the U.S.
Abel Zimmerman Zyl, builder and owner of Zyl Vardos, became famous in the tiny house community for his intricate and artistic houses. His company is based out of Olympia, Washington, and offers several styles and sizes of houses along with the option of a complete solar power setup. His homes feature his signature circular window, a detail many of his customers adore.
For the more adventurous DIY crowd, there is always the option of building your own house. Macy Miller, an architectural intern living in Idaho, began designing and building her 196 square foot home in 2011. Since then, she has spent thousands of dollars, cut the tip of her dad’s finger off and broken her back falling off of the roof. Still, she’s determined to finish the build.
If you are looking to live portably but don’t want to commit to an entire build, you can take your life on the road like the husband-and-wife duo Jason and Nikki Wynn. In their blog “Gone With the Wynns,” they document their adventures traveling cross-country in their RV.
So why don’t all tiny homeowners opt for RVs? There are several reasons. First, travel trailers aren’t necessarily eco-friendly, and many builders choose to use reclaimed materials. You just can’t get that with most RVs.
Also, many travel trailers don’t take advantage of the space they have. Most portable tiny homes feature a loft for sleeping or storage, but that’s not as common in RVs. This wastes a lot of space that could be used for other features. Plus, RVs are designed for short-term living, so they don’t offer as much storage as a tiny house does.
The most common answer, however, is much simpler: a camper just doesn’t feel like a home.
But I wholeheartedly disagree.
For me, tiny house living is more about the lifestyle than the house. Granted, I live in a college dorm for nine months out of the year and a 2,000 square foot house for the rest. Still, I would be more than happy with an RV, a couple of cats and a map of the cheapest campgrounds in the U.S.
No matter which direction they choose to go, most tiny house owners have the same goal in mind: to live a portable, minimalist lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if you live in a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly cottage or a rusty old camper. It doesn’t even matter if you live in a tiny house or a mansion. Give yourself all the space you need, even if that means giving yourself barely any space at all. Make your own definition of luxury.