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Living Little: The Tiny House Movement

I can't be the only one who has dreamed of retreating to a little cabin in the north woods, Anne Labastille style.

Judith Mountain Cabin in Montana, designed by Jeff Shelden.

Judith Mountain Cabin in Montana, designed by Jeff Shelden.

What Is Considered "Tiny"?

Most "tiny houses" are between 100 to 400 square feet—basically the size of my living room. That said, as with all homes, there is an amazing variety of not only size, but shape.

As a bonus, since these homes are so small, the owner can often afford much higher-quality materials, customize in ways a normal homeowner can only dream of, and in many cases build it themselves.

Cabin in the Woods

I can't be the only one who has dreamed of retreating to a little cabin in the north woods, Anne Labastille style. That said, the reality of actually being cut off from friends and family, leaving my job, and the occasional delivered pizza is more than enough to keep me from skulking off into a permanent hermit life (for now, anyway).

That said there is an interesting new trend, or rather a recycled one, for those of us who long for simplicity in an increasingly materialistic world—a tiny house. Perhaps even a tiny house on wheels if you are of the vagabond mentality. For those of you who haven't heard of it, here are some facts. Who knows, maybe this is the escape you've been waiting for.

Who Lives in Tiny Houses?

Contrary to what you are probably thinking, not all tiny house owners are hipsters in their 20s. There are a large number of retirees, empty nesters, and even celebrities who have embraced the lifestyle.

In fact, two out of every five tiny house owners are over the age of 50. Less surprisingly, to me at least, the majority of them are also women. For more factoids, check out the chart below.

Tiny house owner statistics.

Tiny house owner statistics.

U.S. Averages

  • 2012 U.S. median household income = $51,371
  • 2012 U.S average mortgage = $235,000
  • 2011 U.S average new home size = 2,480 square feet

Less Space = Lower Mortgage

The average American's mortgage amount for 2012 was $235,000—nearly a quarter of a million dollars. Does that seem insane to anyone else?

Especially considering that according to the 2012 census, the median household income was $51,371 (that's for everyone in the house over 15 years old).

I'm not saying we should protest the banking industry or go live in a commune, but maybe we need to shift our priorities a bit and just ask ourselves, what do I really need?

How much space do you really need?

How much space do you really need?

How Much Space Do I Need?

The catalyst of this article is the fact that I just inherited 20 acres of old farmland and am considering that very question in the process of deciding what kind of house I want to put on it; what do I really need? How much of the space I am living in now do I actually use in comparison to how much I've just managed to fill?

Being a homebody, bibliophile and artist, I like my space—so I think I want something a little more than the 356 square foot Tumbleweed house below but a lot less than the average American's 2,480 square feet.

Surprisingly, as I read through blogs and articles of tiny house owners, square footage has become secondary. I sense in all of them that somewhere along the way they all seemed to have struggled with their new reality, embraced it, and then finally loved it. The common theme is that the less you have, the more you appreciate what you do—kind of like the new appreciation you have for fresh vegetables after a week of camping on ramen noodles and Clif bars.

Bodega House, designed by Tumbleweed (356 sq feet).

Bodega House, designed by Tumbleweed (356 sq feet).

Bodega House Plans.

Bodega House Plans.

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Tiny House Virtual Tour

The Idea of Downsizing

For most of us, the adjacent tiny house is a bit small; but the idea of it and the ingenuity of it strikes a chord. Could we downsize, even just a little bit?

How about that storage unit? According to Slate Magazine, one out of 11 Americans pays for storage in a country whose home size has risen and household size has fallen. Do we actually need everything we're keeping in storage? Could we donate it to someone who does?

Mobile house, designed by Martin House-To-Go.

Mobile house, designed by Martin House-To-Go.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


The Blagsmith from Britain on March 13, 2019:

Interesting, I am a minimalist and I hate clutter. I have a family at the moment so not quite the time but I certainly would not be averse to the idea of moving to a smaller home later on - much easier to maintain.

Jean Bakula from New Jersey on April 03, 2016:

There is a show on HGTV which shows people on the market shopping for tiny houses. has featured them often as a way to live without taking away so much land and trees for large houses people want, but don't need. I think it's great for a young couple just starting out, they own it, so can sell it if they decide to have a family and have a down payment for a larger home. But some are very unrealistic. The first comment is "How will we fit out king sized bed in the loft BR?" I also saw a couple with 3 children, and think it was unfair to crowd them together like that. If you are an artist, or photographer, or want to live in a community of tiny houses with people your age, then it can work. I like the yurt style, you can divide it up in a lot of different ways.

brownella (author) from New England on November 19, 2015:

Hi Mactavers! My older sister said the same thing when I started talking about building a small house (she's a great cook who loves nothing more than feeding a group of 10 or more). It definitely does seem to be a niche market for a specific type of person. I'm a bit of a loner so I'm not too worried about fitting in all my company but I can see your point. I would be pretty bummed if she decided to sell her house for a tiny moveable one since that is where we all go for family dinner twice a month. I guess the bottom line is to each their own. Thanks for commenting

mactavers on November 19, 2015:

I can't knock that tiny houses are practical for some, but I'd miss having company and entertaining. As for moving a tiny house, I can see those who have jobs from place to place it would work, but many people who love their communities, and don't plan on moving.

brownella (author) from New England on August 04, 2015:

Hi Rain. Thanks for your comment - its always nice to get an opposite perspective :-)

Rain on August 03, 2015:

Stop drinking the kool-aid. Paying more for less is never a good thing.

brownella (author) from New England on January 25, 2015:

Hi Orchid Girl. It does seem to be depressingly true that as soon as a great idea catches on it gets immediately less practical. That said the cheaper, do it yourself path seems like it would be a great experience in itself :-) Thanks for reading.

Orchid Girl on January 25, 2015:

Unfortunately, now that the tiny house movement is growing, so are the prices. It really pays to do it yourself.

brownella (author) from New England on January 11, 2015:

Hi Abbie. I know it would be more practical wouldn't it? After all, I ditched my CD's for an ipod years ago. Unfortunately, books are one thing I just can't seem to be practical about...there is something about the weight of the binding, the smell of paper, the ink...the tangibleness of the written word that reminds you that it was written by someone not so unlike yourself...Maybe I am a little bit of a romantic. For a full argument in favor of books and bookstores check out my hub:

Maybe I'll convert you. Thanks for reading :-)

Abbie on January 11, 2015:

Why not get a kindle?

brownella (author) from New England on September 10, 2014:

I can definitely sympathize, I have an obscene number of books. But I love the coziness these small houses (although mine would definitely stuffed with books). Thanks for reading :-)

Laura Brown from Barrie, Ontario, Canada on September 10, 2014:

I've been looking at the tiny houses for a couple of years. It would be nice but I can't see myself getting rid of enough books and such to do it.

brownella (author) from New England on July 17, 2014:

I definitely agree about small houses. I grew up in a big old farmhouse, which was great, but my mothers best friend had a tiny cottage on the lake, filled with books, and I always loved it there best. Thanks for reading :-)

bluebird on July 17, 2014:

How can one not feel cozier and more secure in a little house? Big houses are too airy and drafty and make one feel lonesome, whether the house is full of stuff or not.

Anyway, to each his own.

brownella (author) from New England on April 08, 2014:

Hi Jo, that sounds lovely. Based on my current plans my little house should be 960 sq feet, just a bit smaller than yours. It's nice to hear from someone who has made the leap, I think I will love it too :-)

Jo Miller from Tennessee on April 08, 2014:

I followed my dreams about 10 years ago and moved to a plot of land in the country. I read many of those books and articles on small houses. I settled for a 1200 square foot house that I contracted myself. Love the life I live.

brownella (author) from New England on April 01, 2014:

Hi Nell. I agree, the garden and land around a house hold the most appeal for me as well, I think anything can be beautiful in the right setting. Perhaps it is the unobtrusiveness of these tiny houses in the landscape which draws me to them. Thanks for reading :-)

Nell Rose from England on March 31, 2014:

I like the idea of a tiny house, like you I have so many books and stuff but the idea of one of these in a nice area is great. I have always gone for the area more than the house to be honest, so yes I wouldn't mind a small house, nell

brownella (author) from New England on March 18, 2014:

I am so glad you enjoyed it. 300 sq feet is a little small for me too but I think it is a great principle, one that most of us in this country have the luxury of choosing rather than being forced into. As you said, it does certainly give one food for thought. Thanks for reading :)

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on March 18, 2014:

I have seen and read about tiny houses and I like your hub very much. I have never been into a large house and my house sizes have always been average, not large. I don't know if I could go as small as 300+ square feet as that is a bit small, but the Tumbleweed Bodega looks interesting, especially with the loft above. This is certainly food for thought.

brownella (author) from New England on March 13, 2014:

Hi Linda, thanks for reading. I agree, it is an interesting trend, I can't wait to see how it spreads and changes in the coming years. It definitely makes one reassess the amount of space needed to live comfortably.

mylindaelliott from Louisiana on March 13, 2014:

I've heard about tiny houses for a while now. They are so interesting.

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