“Can you have sex in a tiny house loft without hitting your head? Where does your poop go?” Apparently among the tiny home community, it takes a mere 10 minutes for the discussion to come to these questions of basic human function. I’m not able to answer these from first hand experience but I’m told all works out just fine.
I was in search of answering a broader question of human functions. “Is a tiny home livable?” And “Where do people put all their clothes?” I know hundreds of tiny homes have been built in the U.S. in the last year, the stories are all over Pinterest, and there are at least three reality shows on the subject, but I needed to live it for myself.
Tiny homes can range from 100500 square feet while the average American home is 2,678. Only 59,000 homes built in 2013 came with less than two bedrooms, compared with more than a quarter million with four bedrooms or more. My overnight was in a 200 square foot model (including loft) that nobody had ever stayed in, built by Titan Home Builders. I was just as excited about being the first to sleep there as I was to sleep there at all. Is there really something to all this hype and what can it mean for the sustainable clothing movement? The tiny home movement and the sustainable fashion movement are both fairly young, and gaining traction with press and followers. It made sense to me that they could help each other.
Prince sang “I Feel For You” on my tiny speaker and I heard the water filling a tiny bathtub while I chopped mushrooms. Candles on the stairs led to a cozy sleeping loft awaiting me with a soft blanket. Everything I need to survive and then some. A place to cook, a place to bathe, a place to sleep in safety. I embarked on this exploration with the mission not only to understand how tiny living could have a place in the ecofashion movement, but I needed first hand experience before I proposed building them in my hometown of Evanston,IL to address homelessness and the dwindling inventory of affordable housing. It turns out that the tiny home had big solutions for all of these afflictions.
5 big lessons revealed themselves during my stay in the tiny home:
- We don’t need so much stuff. Clean, cook, sleep. We may think of these things as basics. They fulfill basic human needs. My tiny home sleepover made me realize via a physical felt sense that when my basic needs were met by that simple, small roof, I didn’t want for much else. There was something about having everything paired down to the basics that illuminated how little I really needed. Not once did I start thinking, “Oh, how would I fit all of my clothes here?!” Actually, that’s false. I did think that. But it was immediately followed by the thought, “Forget all those clothes. How few clothes can I live with? I could put a little shelf here. When I got sick of them after a couple years, I’d go to a clothing swap or a second hand store.” It gave me a renewed motivation in my mission to reduce clothing waste and have less stuff in general. As I launch a sustainable, versatile clothing brand, and plan what I want to be a quarterly clothing swap in partnership with a boutique in Evanston, the experience of knowing how little we truly need was validating.
- Novelty is good and doesn’t have to end. I realize that some of my tiny home enthusiasm can be attributed to the allure of novelty. I love new adventures and this overnight fell into that category. However I don’t think that invalidates my observations. Novelty can spark joy that ends up lasting through changed behavior. For example, a novelty that has taken root is Project 333, with the tag line “be more with less”, an endeavor to wear only 33 items (including shoes, jewelry, coats) for 3 months. Not only was it the easiest thing I’ve done in years, it was fun. And I went 4 months before switching out for a new 33 items. A more dramatic story of novelty creating behavioral change is a of a friend who had his entire condo burn up. He lost all of his material things. He decided not to replace his dozens of shirts and is living with 10 now. He loves it. I truly believe that the enthusiasm around the tiny home movement although fed by some novelty, can continue, and lead to improvements in lifestyle and environmental impact. Just like the excitement for a new, sartorially savvy, and sustainably made wardrobe.
- Small living draws us out of the house. Many people 40 years and older remember “front porch” communities where everyone knew their neighbor and kids played around the neighborhood until dark. That is a lost time in many cities across America. With kids on screens and the correlated increase in childhood obesity, the streets in American suburbs are more desolate. For kids 818, the average screen time grew to 7.5 hrs/day in 2009 vs 6.5 in 2005. No wonder the streets aren’t teeming with kids anymore and front porches are empty. Adults are just as bad and has led to increasing disconnection we have to community in the form of real, flesh and blood humans. In the tiny house, I realized I was drawn out more. There’s the obvious need for a little breathing room. A tiny 200 square foot house doesn’t offer the opportunity to stretch one’s legs as does a 2,600 square foot house. I believe that if I lived in a tiny house I’d be out in the world more than puttering around all the rooms full of stuff in my current home cleaning, organizing (avoiding cleaning and organizing). Less to clean, less to organize. Less keeping me in the house. More reasons to connect with and think about the world and community. And thinking about community impact is a big piece of supporting sustainable clothing manufacturing.
- Small living encourages big thinking. When we are bogged down with material stuff, we are left with less time to think big or deep. Thinking can remain at the surface and often revolve around managing the stuff. The mortgage, the bathroom remodel, the overflowing playroom, the house repair projects… and we can fill in the rest of that ongoing list that never gets done. What if all of that was alleviated by 90% and we could think about what was really important? It’s true that it takes time to contemplate where our goods are made, how much we consume, how we can make less of an impact, or how to make a more positive impact. Just getting through the day, feeding our children, making it to our meetings, and getting shit done wipes us out. Sometimes facing all those home projects and “stuff” becomes overwhelming. A tiny home relieves some of that extra stuff and leaves space for us to think big ideas. Those dreams, those questions, and the time to address them feels like a luxury. I learned that the tiny home can bring a gift of simplicity that in itself feels like a luxury because the psychic and physical weight of stuff is lifted.
- Tiny living promotes mindful living. Less space equals less stuff. Whatever space we’re given, we will fill. Move to a bigger house? We notice that we accumulate more stuff. In a tiny house, that isn’t an option. Every acquisition of a material thing must be considered carefully when living in a tiny house. We are forced to ask, “Do I really need this? Does it bring me joy? Do I really need this new shirt?” Inherently within that process of asking those questions, we are more mindful. We are noticing.
- When you have less, everything becomes more special. As I folded my meager stash of overnight personal items, they each took on more importance. I can liken this to the feeling of putting away clothes in a hotel dresser. We choose a select few pieces from our wardrobe to represent us on a trip. Each one was chosen carefully and we are happy they are there. Each one will have to serve well and possibly often depending on how efficiently we pack. What if our whole wardrobe was that special? That carefully picked and appreciated?
I’m not the only one realizing the gifts of a tiny home. Nick Streff of Titan Home Builders reports “Between all the builders in the U.S., about 100130 tiny homes have been built over the last year. To retirees with finite income living a fuller life and diverting those precious resources to living life comfortably and not maintaining large houses and tracts of land.”
That may not seem like many homes but with the popularity and hype on Instagram, Pinterest, podcasts, and reality tv shows, it’s clear that the idea is gaining mainstream traction. The mission of tiny home living and ecoconscious fashion are aligned. They are mIndful and sustainable in a big way. That tiny roof and conscious consumption that can be the beginning of a big, beautiful life.
About the Author
Jenny Arrington is a yoga teacher and founder of Karma Trik, a garment made from one piece of cloth that can be worn 15 ways. She attended the MIT Global Entrepreneur Bootcamp where Karma Trik was chosen to pitch. She is also mother of two girls, fundraiser, community collaborator, and amateur aerialist.