Why the Tiny Home Movement May Not be So Tiny

Why the Tiny Home Movement May Not be So Tiny

 

Tiny Homes - Redefining the simple life 

Most of us hate feeling cramped. We hate being stuck on a crowded plane, stuck in congested traffic, and wading through packed concert halls. We like to be able to stretch out, get casual, and relax, but we can’t do that when people are invading our space.

Over the past century, space has become synonymous with wealth, status, and luxury. Naturally the most important people have the biggest houses, biggest cars, biggest boats, and work at the biggest corporations.

In 1900, the average house in the U.S. was a mere 700 sq. ft. with an average of 4.6 people living inside. A hundred years later, the average home had mushroomed to 2,500 sq. ft. with only 2.5 residents.

As a society we’re caught up in a self-perpetuating make-money-spend-money loop that blinds us to other possibilities. We’ve been in a race to the top and a tremendous number of service organizations have cropped up that both heighten our fear of missing out and provide quick financing to buy the “good life” today with tomorrow’s money.

But the recent recession delivered a sobering gut-check to life as usual. Easy money has caused housing prices to spiral out of control, and all of the things we thought were so important, suddenly became less so.

Out of this has sprung a low carbon living crusade as a natural follow-on to the green and renewable energy movements. But it tends to be less about solving the world’s ills and more about people taking control of their own destiny.

At the heart of this movement are a new breed of tiny homes that are comfortable, efficient, often portable, and most important, mortgage free. They represent freedom, freedom from debt, freedom from conspicuous consumption, and freedom to live a life of passion.

Here’s why the tiny home movement is likely to be far more than a tiny blip on the radar screen of change.

 

Tiny homes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes

The Emperor has No Clothes

Young people feel like they’ve been lied to.

Gen-Y, or Millennials, were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. They’ve inherited a country that is broken. From the worst economy in 80 years, to a post-9/11 surveillance state, to a dysfunctional healthcare system, they have indeed been dealt a losing hand.

They were told the path to success was an overpriced college degree, but even with tons of education, very few are employed in jobs that require a college degree.

  1. Only 6 in 10 Millennials have jobs, half are part-time [Harvard University]
  2. 284,000 American college graduates were working in minimum-wage jobs in 2012. [Wall Street Journal]
  3. 48% of employed college graduates work in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree. [The Center for College Affordability and Productivity]
  4. 63% know someone who had to move back home because of the economy. [Pew Research]
  5. 35% of employed Millennials have started their own business on the side to supplement their income. [Iconoculture]
  6. 90% say being an entrepreneur is really a mindset instead of just the role of a business owner [Millennial Branding / oDesk]
  7. Over 63% of Gen Y workers have a Bachelor’s Degree. [Millennial Branding / PayScale]
  8. They are now on track to become the most educated generation in American history. [Pew Research]

As a result, we have the world’s highest educated workforce of bartenders and waitresses.

Inside view of a tiny home

Tiny Homes Defined

In general, tiny homes represent simple living in small homes. A small house means less room for clutter, less energy costs, less taxes, and a smaller ecological footprint.

Other than that, there are very few rules that govern tiny homes. Most are under 300 sq. ft. with some even less than a third of that, but others in the 400-500 sq. ft. range.

Construction varies widely from DIY wood and shingles, to retrofitted shipping containers, to unique architecture with alternative energy systems. Some are mobile, some transportable, and some fixed-foundation. Some are single person homes, others for couples or families. Some consist of durable construction, others will only last a few years.

Constructed with a old shipping container

A number of companies are sprung up offering pre-built tiny homes:

Other companies are helping people build their own:

For some, these may be the perfect second home, cabin in the mountains, or vacation place along the coast. Others may want them as their primary residence.

Ella Jenkins and her father building her home

The Ella Jenkins Story

Ella Jenkins of Frazier Park, California, is a 23-year-old “homeowner.” She built her own house, and it has everything she needs, in only 130 square feet and it’s built on a trailer frame. Total cost was $16,000 to build, and she constructed it with her father in the driveway of her family’s home. It was a yearlong DIY project. But no mortgage or rent means she has the economic freedom to pursue music and art. She won’t get forced into a career path she doesn’t want.

Inside Ella Jenkins home

Eight Key Things a Huge Mortgage will prevent you From Doing

In the movie Fight Club, author Chuck Palahniuk makes a rather profound statement when the lead character Tyler Durden says, “The things you used to own, now they own you.”

We make many tradeoffs throughout our life and most of them somehow pass through our internal filter for what constitutes the good life. In doing so we find ourselves caught up in an endless quest for more, which invariably costs us time and money at every turn.

One of the biggest boat anchors for our lives tends to be our home and the gigantic home mortgage that comes with it. We sacrifice much for the sake of paying our mortgage. Here are some of the things we give up:

  • No Life of Passion – Want to be a musician, writer, artist, poet, actor, actress, clothing designer, or movie star? The job you take to pay your mortgage will almost always get in the way.
  • No Time and Money for Travel – Are you jealous of people traveling to China, Brazil, Norway, and Italy? If you didn’t spend money on paying rent or a mortgage, how much money could you dedicate to doing something else?
  • No Spending Time with Family and Friends – Because you’re always working, family and friends always seem to come in second place.
  • No Ability to Move Quickly – Selling a home is a complicated, time-consuming process with a huge number of fees and commissions.
  • Limited Ability to Switch Jobs – Once you’re in a home, your ability to switch jobs and careers is clouded by the number of employers in close proximity to where you currently live.
  • No Ability to Explore New Cities – New cities mean new cultures, new friends, and a new way of thinking.
  • Limited Ability to Find New Opportunities – If you come across a new opportunity, but it requires you to live somewhere new for 3-6 months, being tied to a home makes that nearly impossible.
  • No Time for Dreams – How do dreamers live? What is that big dream that you’ve had on hold forever? Would you go to Burning Man? How would your life suddenly be different if you were no longer tied to a job or a location?

Currently there are no tiny home communities

The Missing Pieces

Currently no city has stood up and labeled themselves as “tiny home friendly.”

This means there are no tiny home neighborhoods, no tiny home parks (like trailer parks), and no rules, laws, or ordinances governing their construction, installation, and transport.

If you own a tiny home and drive it into a new city, you may have difficulty finding a place to put it. Yes, you can always pull into a local KOA campground and hang out there with all the RVs and campers, but tiny homeowners are looking for better ways to integrate into a community.

These missing pieces mean huge opportunities for the future. Here are a few of the opportunities for someone wanting to capitalize on this trend:

  • Tiny Home Pads – If you have a large yard, just add a pad with power and utility hookups and you can generate extra rental income for very little investment.
  • Airbnb Rental – If you add a tiny home to your back yard, rent it out through Airbnb.
  • Tiny Home Association – As the numbers grow, this industry will need more clout when it comes to city rules and regulations. Each state will eventually have tiny homeowners associations.
  • Tiny Home Realtor – Since many of these homes are mobile, people will easily travel cross-country to pick up a home they buy.
  • Tiny Store Front–Home Combined – Not only a place to live but a way to earn a living while traveling as well.

Leaving town and take your home with you

Final Thoughts

Think of this as an obvious backlash to the banking, mortgage, and credit card industry. It’s also a backlash to glutinous consumption, poor job opportunities, and young people feeling betrayed by older generations.

Living in a trailer house has a bad connotation. But living in an even smaller tiny home, that has many of the same features as a trailer house, is suddenly all the rage, sheik and cool tied up into one super cute little package.

But the big thing this trend offers is freedom, and that’s not easy to quantify. It’s not just an efficient lifestyle, but a culture, a door-opener, a character-builder, and untethered nobility all rolled into one.

Cities will have to adapt. People without permanent ties to a community are difficult to regulate and factor into city planning, but people with tiny homes will happen anyway.

I’ve only mentioned a few of the possible opportunities ahead, but there will be many more. So I’d love to hear your thoughts on the tiny home movement and how it will affect your thoughts on home ownership in the future.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything

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18 Responses

  1. Christina

    This definitely can make a difference to the young generation. Go for it.

  2. This seems like an idea to fit the situation. However, in Canada I see all kinds of issues around building regulations. We need a permit to even add a deck or built a garden shed. We however have been seeing more loft condominiums listed with 400 sq. ft and that seems to fall close to these in size.
    Several years ago we decided against a cottage as a second property and instead bought a 41 foot boat. It is our floating cottage and has room to sleep friends and family, serve dinner to 8,and acommodate my small office. With 3 levels we have tons of room. If we want a new neighbourhood, we just pick up anchor, fire up the engines and move to a new habour.
    D. Wilcox

  3. 100% agree & not before time. It has long been the case in England (The original one, not the New one.) that 10 couples buying an English country mansion or Scottish Castle with 20 bedrooms would pay half the price each compared to buying a house individually for themselves. So effectively that is a tiny home within a community sharing the public areas.
    In the UK, Premier Inns are introducing a revolutionary concept for hotels, the ‘Hub Room’. These are ultra efficient techie rooms around 120 sq. ft.. at rock bottom overnight prices. The first is due to open in August this year next to Trafalgar Square. We will definitely use them for some of our tours if we can get in because what is happening is that many London workers are already looking to live in them Monday to Friday instead of renting or buying expensive London pads & go home to new cheaper homes by the sea or in the country at weekends.
    So this is all part of the downsizing process.

  4. Gavin

    Prison cell chic.
    In the UK people are starting to live in shipping containers.
    These homes are ok for toy houses, but I cannot imagine people choosing to live in these over proper sized homes.

    So I do not support people living in these as it is a step backwards for society, they are dressed up shanty towns.

  5. Ray Hall

    G’day from Ray.
    One poster mentioned that trailer ( caravan ) park living has a bad connotation. O.K. That outlook varies greatly according to geography, quality of construction and enforcement by local authorities of good quality environments. I’ve spent years in an ” over-50’s ” section which allows nothing less than Park Homes in top condition with tended gardens. No caravans with or without impermanent extensions, nor old ex-buses etc. nor any letting out; long-term owners only.
    Life is enjoyable amongst the type of people who each relish one anothers’ company.

  6. John Jorgensen

    I am surprised at you Thomas, for not mentioning that our children are also inheriting an irreparably warming climate with warming, acidifying oceans, and rapidly vanishing biodiversity. All this is due to our largess and consumptive lifestyle, which you do allude to. This article however introduces the kind of resiliency and freedom that will be (is!) so needed if we are going to adapt to, mitigate, and dare I hope, turn the juggernaut around. For that, I am pleased and thank you. Finally, not so much robots, gadgetry, and techno-wiz-bang (I have to admit, toys have their appeal). Instead, a lot more simplify, green-up, and free-up our lives in response to the new normal.

  7. FuturistSpeaker

    Dale,

    Thanks for your comments. In your case, you’ve replace the tiny home on land with one on the water. Great idea!

    Thomas Frey

  8. FuturistSpeaker

    Gregg,

    You’re right! Downsizing is happening everywhere. But there’s some interesting twists if the mortgage and rents can be eliminated completely.

    Since most hotel rooms are about the size of tiny homes, it’s easy to visualize that size of space to live in.

    Thomas Frey

  9. Rebecca G. T.

    This would be one of great equalizers for society ills, especially for the disabled people who are desperately trying to fit in with regular people. Not only the housing would be more affordable and easier to fix to accommodate their handicaps, they can always pick up and go where they are wanted and where they can afford better opportunities and decent living. All they want is to be a part of community to contribute and this type of housing will not tie them down. So many of them are living within their shells and humanity need to bring them out. This would be one of good starts for them.

  10. Thomas,
    Great article. As a ‘boomer’ who has owned 11 houses in my time (I know…crazy)and has spent a fortune on continually ‘up-sizing,(the last one was 5,000 sq ft.), I woke up one morning in Denver and realized that I didn’t want to live like this anymore. I now live in a loft on an island on Puget Sound, which I am renting. I found and purchased a beautifully kept 1985 Winnebago 24 ft motor (paid only $3900) home which I use to satisfy my need to travel. Never have I lived in such a small space and never have I been happier. It has allowed me to retire, write, coach people on Skype,and live the life I was meant to live. My point? I wish I could go back in time and have a talk with myself when I was 22 and just coming out of my undergrad work. I think…I hope…that the small footprint home is the way of the future.

  11. FuturistSpeaker

    Steve,

    I think you’re going through what many other of us boomers are going through – rethinking why we’ve all been so obsessed with stuff. I know I am.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts.

    Thomas Frey

  12. FuturistSpeaker

    Rebecca,

    Some great points. Being ownerless and mobile offers great freedom.

    Thomas Frey

  13. Bmadarie

    Another wonderful thing about tiny homes is that it makes it easier to vote by your residency/pocketbook. If you are unhappy with how your town/state is being run, it’s much simpler to move. I could see this being an effective response to gerrymandering–one party rigs the voting districts in such a way as to ensure that their candidate remains in office, so everyone who disagrees moves to a different voting district? I think that would be a lovely response for people with truly mobile homes.

  14. Keith

    Thomas,
    Thanks so much for writing about this rapidly growing phenomenon. I am a CPA, and from my perspective the mortgage banking system is broken. Many of my best clients have had difficulty in obtaining mortgage loans recently due to all of the regulations and requirements. Tiny homes paid for out of cash are a perfect way to restart our economy without debt. These innovators invest their hard labor and cash for materials to create something of utility and value. A portable place to live without rent, or a mortgage payment is the most economically liberating thing I can imagine.

  15. At Tumbleweed, we are seeing demand to go tiny. Some people want to build, others start with a “barn raiser” shell, and still others want a home built for them. We believe main triggers relate to life stage, environmental impact and, of course, financial concerns. Not taking on mortgages is balanced by removing mortgage overhangs. It’s interesting to see 20-somethings, the squeeze generation, and retirees seeking comfortable, nice and downsized ways to live.

  16. David

    Not so long ago, I owned (or rather the bank really did) a 3 bedroom with full basement. It was quite full. I spent a lot of my time (and $) on maintenance. After a couple of down-sizings and a return to grad school, I now live in a “studio” rental that’s about 250 sq ft. I don’t miss the size at all. It became clear what was actually important for me. I recently read the book Tiny Homes and its a grand option for retirement. I don’t think it’s just young people who will be seeking flexible, low-cost housing.

  17. Ken

    My wife, and I plus a cat lived in a 22′ travel trailer, (which I still own), for 1 year while I completed a training requirement for my current job. While I can’t say the experence was wonderful, it wasn’t bad. Everything was easily accessible, we stayed on a 55+ RV park with individual metered electric and cable TV. All we paid for was lot rent of $250.00 per month. We even had our own mail address. While we now live in a 1600sf house,(provided by my employer), I plan on using that travel trailer as a second home somewhere nearby the beach. We live a frugal and minimalist lifestyle and long for the simplistic days of tiny travel trailer days.
    Thank you for this article, I see it as a wave of the future.

  18. kerry marshall

    perhaps a practical solution for the homeless.

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