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The housing bust, a shaky economy, environmental concerns, a desire to go off the grid and “rightsize”… These are just some of the reasons tiny-home owners name for giving up roomier homes for 100-square-foot (or even less) dwellings. While living large in these small spaces isn’t everybody’s dream, a determined and growing movement of people building their own tiny homes is marching enthusiastically across the continent. So, what are the benefits of tiny home living, and what are the challenges? And just how far will the tiny home trend go?
It’s hard to tell how many people now live in tiny houses, largely due to privacy concerns; but if www.tinyhousemap.com is any indication, the ranks of these tiny dwellings are swelling daily. The map shows people who currently live in, are interested in purchasing or who are currently building tiny homes. They post pictures, buy, sell and share ideas with other tiny house enthusiasts. And at “The Tiny Life” lifestyle blog, they’ve recently posted a fascinating infographic about the folks who are living large in small spaces.
Among other things, they discovered that:
• 68 percent of tiny-home dwellers are mortgage-free, compared with 32 percent of traditional homeowners.
• Tiny-home builders spend an average of $23,000 on their structures (which often sit atop wheels for easy transport), while the average traditional homeowner spends upwards of $481,708 (including interest on loans).
• 65 percent of tiny-home owners have zero credit card debt, and have between $5,000 and $10,000 of savings in the bank.
Tiny homeowner Dee Williams in Washington State, who was recently featured on PBS’s “Need to Know”, pays no rent, no mortgage and a whopping $8.00 on utilities each month. So clearly, there are major financial benefits to cutting the extra space.
Williams and others like her say that living on a smaller scale has been enormously liberating for them in many ways. The financial freedom gained by not having to pay for, furnish, clean and maintain such a big home is just one thing. The movie, “Small is Beautiful” shows several people who have been able to turn their attention to bigger dreams like travel, community service, green living and more without the time- and energy-consuming nature of paying for and maintaining a larger home.
Of course, living in these small spaces does take some getting used to. Williams’s little house, which currently sits in a friend’s backyard, does not have a shower. Williams helps her friend with various housework tasks in exchange for regular showering privileges. Another challenge with small spaces is that one has to use every single inch of space wisely in order to make it work. Non-essentials cause clutter and make such tight spaces harder to live in; so tiny-home dwellers must make the decision to live with far less stuff. When Williams shows off her little closet, it is neatly organized, and she adds that if she wants to get a new shirt, she has to decide which of the old ones has to go. She has a one-burner stove, so all of her meals are simple, one-pot affairs.
Tiny houses are becoming more of a movement than a just trend; the Small House Society lists a growing number (60+) of architectural firms that specialize in building these small dwellings. And they all report heavy and growing demand for their services. Evidence of the movement’s popularity is also flooding the Web with clever design, storage and decorating ideas. From loft bedrooms and stairs cleverly concealing drawers and shelves, to hide-away beds that turn into sofas with hidden storage compartments, there seems to be an infinite number of ways to design these very finite spaces. And these tiny spaces are giving more people more freedom to get out and do what they want with their lives.
Jeff Caldwell is Brand Manager of Superior Shelter in Carrollton, GA. Accepting shelter design challenges from designers and architects around the world, Superior Shelter creates custom outdoor shelters, gazebos and pergolas specific to your outdoor needs.