January 30, 2015

Tiny Houses

Have you seen the documentary Tiny on Netflix?

We first watched it well over a year ago but, when we had a friend visiting over Christmas break, Scott told him about it and we watched it again.

The idea is that we don't need STUFF.  Of course, many of us subscribe to this theory and we don't like excess stuff everywhere and purging old clothes, toys, and books feels good.  However, the point of this documentary is not only that we don't need excess stuff, we don't need excess space.  Imagine what you could do if you don't need to maintain, decorate, furnish, and pay the utilities for a 2,000 square foot house.  The documentary is about why we can become happier and more fulfilled if we focus on aspects of life other than having a big house, with lots of stuff, and the high-stress job that pays for it all.  

Now.  Scott would love to build a tiny house.  I would think it could be a fun experiment and would like to try a year of living that way.  We think the business model of, perhaps, manufacturing tiny houses could be pretty profitable.  Especially since we've lived in those crunchy states of Alaska and Colorado.  There's a market for it.  

This got me thinking about the comparison trap, why we insist on big houses, why we feel the need to fill them with stuff, etc.  

Bear with me.  This is a long post.  But I can't get these thoughts out of my head, so here we are. 

Our first house in Alaska was about 1300 square feet and that included the garage.  3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, open living-room/dining room/kitchen, and the garage was only one of those 1.5 car varieties.  It was pretty perfect when we first moved in, but as we amassed army gear and hunting stuff and some tools, we quickly ran out of space.  

House #2 (pictures taken from an old camera phone)

Like this space was kinda wasted, right?

Extra living room we NEVER used.

Let me explain why we had such a house. Pickings were slim in the rental market that winter, and I liked the layout and Scott liked the 3 car garage.  Because we moved to a new town, the house was the same rent price as the former much smaller one.  It wasn't really an adjustment in that sense.  We just could finally spread out.  Well, what happens when you have more space?  You get more stuff.  While we didn't buy new furniture, we did end up with more tools, hunting stuff, a snowmobile, a cataraft, etc.  
The house had an eat-in kitchen, dining room, two living rooms, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and a loft.  It was way too big for us.  It was also basic builder-grade, so there was nothing special or unique about it.  It fit our needs though and we were more or less happy there.  We totally were aware the entire time that it was ridiculously big.  We needed that garage though.  The driveway was a pain to shovel and yard annoying to mow, but hey.  It worked for 2+ years. 

We intentionally downsized when we moved to Missouri for these reasons.  We also rented there sight-unseen.  They weren't sure how many square feet it was (ugh, Realty Executives), but it was a ranch with a full-sized basement/foundation.  The basement was unfinished, but it was perfect for a storage area and workspace.  The upstairs was the perfect size for the two of us.  We had a guest room, a room for Scott's army stuff, and 2 bathrooms.  My biggest issue with that place was the white carpet.  Also, we didn't like the street we were on (a hill) and the smallish driveway.  The 2-car garage was quickly overrun because, again, we didn't have room to spread out.  The rent was cheaper than it was in Alaska, but that's to be expected.  It was Missouri. 

So.  Then it came time to buy a house.  This is where ideals clashed.  Scott wanted a house with good bones that he could improve upon and I was secretly craving "the American dream".  

However, I knew that a basic, builder-grade house wasn't something I really wanted.  We'd lived in that from 2011-2013 and it was annoyingly…basic.  Also, land. Owning land was a priority.  Here's the post on why we bought below our means.  It sums up things.

Sometimes I selfishly feel like this house is too small.  I mean, I don't have two living rooms anymore.  And then I look at sense:  We have 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms (one unfinished), a full basement with 12 foot ceilings, and who ever told me I needed to live in the kind of houses I see all over this town?  We've spent more time adding the finishes we want to this house and making it feel like our home, compared to worrying about how many square feet it is.  Let it be known that I only feel like this house is too small after I visit someone else's cavernous (well-decorated) home. I've been in some houses that are just big and new and not necessarily well-decorated or special in any way, and that makes me happy with what I have. (I'm tracking how vain and ridiculous this sounds.) 

This could be something we picked up in Alaska too.  Most people I knew there loved and appreciated their homes (bought or rented) and weren't concerned about having the biggest or the best.  People in Alaska were like that.  They were more into being outside and stuff.  Plus, houses there were expensive.  Prime locations in Anchorage were millions of dollars.  

I think the comparison trap told us we need big houses.  Why are people spending $350,000-400,000 on houses that are 22 feet away from their neighbors?  Why is that considered the ideal?  Why is that the American dream?  The American dream used to be known as manifest destiny.  Expanding over the land, not expanding our square footage.  Why is it that many people believe they've "made it" when they have a $2,000 a month mortgage and 2.5 kids and must work at jobs that run them ragged in order to afford it all?  

I don't know the answer to any of this, so I'm just throwing those questions out there.  Obviously, living  in a housing development isn't a bad thing.  I mean, I did it for 5 years.  (The housing developments around Colorado Springs are fascinating microcosms if you look at how they're set up though.  I'm never seen expensive houses so close together.) I'm asking why is the end game a giant house in a housing development? What tells us we, as a human being, need to accomplish that in order to be a grown-up?  Why can't we be happy in an apartment building? The author of The Happiness Project is.  Is it because House Hunters and My First Place tell us that we need to move "up" in the world by expanding our space into what we can barely afford? Again, I don't know the answers.  I'm asking the question.  

We've watched a lot of foreign t.v. shows lately and I'm always startled by how seemingly small and cramped their homes appear compared to ours.  It's all relative and we're just used to the American ideal, I suppose.  Look at the Home Alone house.  Those were rich people. Of course their house was big.  Why do we assume we all need one too?

Anywho.  As someone who has lived in, paid the rent for, and tried to decorate several houses over the last few years, I find myself pondering these things as I watched Tiny.  I highly recommend it if you have Netflix.  


  1. Now that I have to clean my own house... I prefer a smaller home. I always thought I wanted a big place, but I hate STUFF and hate CLUTTER. My husband is a bit of a hoarder, if I don't keep him in check. I just hate having stuff we don't use... I even wish we could declutter this apartment a bit more. Our apartment here is 4 bedrooms (though two are fairly small) and 2 bathrooms, living room, kitchen, laundry. That's all I need. It's a perfect space for us as a family!

  2. Great post. When we moved, I cleaned out a ton of stuff and swore we wouldn't replace it. We totally have. And the other day I actually thought that our house seems a bit small. It isn't. I think you've really addresses the main issue. We are so inundated with the American culture of 'more is better'.

  3. I think I'm on the smaller home side, our house on post at Bragg was 2400 sq ft and that was too much for me haha.

  4. I want a smaller house and more land when we move. MFD wants a bigger house and more land. I'm curious to see where that will go. We don't use so much of our house now. It just holds stuff.

  5. This is a great post.

    We moved from a townhouse that, had it had a different floor plan, would have been a perfect size. So much wasted space and we felt like we were living on top of each other, not to mention our stuff was everywhere! We moved into a 2600 sq ft house 18 months ago with a great floor plan and some days, it actually feels too big. I'd be happy with a compromise between the two. But, to the point of your post...there is a comparison trap to have the biggest, best, and most beautiful house and to fill it with tons of stuff. I think living like that is too hard. It's too much to maintain and clean and who needs a whole house of crap?

    I couldn't live in a tiny house with my family and our pets but I love the concept behind it. I loved that documentary, too!

  6. My husband wants two tiny houses. One for us and for the kids with a tunnel connecting them. I told him that I am not against the idea, but we needed to wait until we weren't moving all the time. I agree with you. We intentionally downgraded when we bought our house. I was tired of trying to keep up with a larger house (1800 sq ft). It was expensive to cool, and I was constantly cleaning. I still think that we have too much space because I feel like I am still cleaning all the time. (Maybe I am a clean freak.) The first house we ever bought was 900 sq ft. It was perfect, and I loved it. Plus, who wants to be house poor?

  7. Love this! It's so easy to fall into the comparison trap and decide you want something just because someone else has it and not even stop to think "Wait, why do I want this again??" Is it really something I want or need or do I just feel like I have to have it in order to be "successful"? Very thought provoking!

  8. Love love love this and I can't help but feel the same way when people buy houses. Its like a competition of sorts. HGTV did a special house hunters with tiny houses and it was interesting to see the options that were laid out in front of you. They also promote them big time at the MO State Fair so its fun to see those in person.

  9. "Why are people spending $350,000-400,000 on houses that are 22 feet away from their neighbors" That's a really good point that I never thought about...not that I have a house that much, but I already can tell we can quickly outgrow our 1488sqft if I let it happen. I would love to think more minimally!

  10. We lived in a little 3 bedroom apartment in Japan and we were fine. Now, we have 1800 sq ft, 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. This house is laid out kinda weird and there is a lot of wasted space. The 4th bedroom is my husband's man room/office, while my office (i work from home some) is in what I think may be the formal dining room. He wants the McMansion, but he wants it on lots of land. I want a smaller, possibly older house with character, but on maybe an acre or two. We are looking at rentals in TX now. I don't need anything fancy. Having granite in the kitchen isn't going to make me cook better. We are looking for a house with an extra room (be it a family room, formal dining room or fourth bedroom) because I'll be working from home full time. I don't need a ton of space for that though.

  11. LOVE this post.
    We watched Tiny recently, and while I didn't love the documentary because it focused too much on that guy building his Tiny house, I love the idea of having less, buying less.. We live in a relatively small house compared to most people I know, and like you I'm happy with my house until I see a beautifully decorated bigger house, and I want more. This is our first house, and we will be moving in a couple years and after living in this one and watching Tiny and learning about buying less and having less, I know we don't NEED a big house no matter what the blog world / tv and movies / etc tell me I do. Really trying to work on decluttering and having less.

  12. I think Angel and I were getting kind of frustrated with the ideal of the "American Dream" as we spent the last 3+ years lrenting a 120 year old, 1800 sq. ft. house on 7 acres. The house was way bigger than we needed, we solved that problem by sealing up the upstairs and not heating it since we didn't use it, and just lived on the ground floor. I loved our yard because we could have bonfires and parties, but neither of us are fans of yardwork. Now, living in a very efficient 700 sq. foot apartment, I can definitely see us living in that sort of arrangement for the rest of our lives, even when we have kids (though the next apartment that we're looking at is 1000 sq. ft. and better designed for a family with kids). I do enjoy looking at pretty houses, but I don't feel the need to be responsible for one.

  13. Plus...in Home Alone, they were not only rich, they had a million kids..... ;)

  14. I read this post when my email gave it to me but I'm not too inclined to comment on my phone. Something about small screens (and I have a 6 plus now, which isn't small.) We bought a smaller house and I think its perfect. I wanted to say that I agree with your sentiments. estherdavison@gmail.com


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