Lessons from the tiny house movement
Thursday, 7 May 2015
Jay Shafer grew up in what may be considered an above-averaged American home—generally about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet.
But somewhere along the way, a realization dawned on him: Radical simplification equals liberation.
After a dozen summers spent in a tent in the woods of Long Island, Shafer parked a 14-foot-long Airstream trailer with 100-square-feet of living space in the middle of an Iowa hayfield in 2007. He has since become a pioneer of the Tiny House movement, a policy advocate for those seeking a simpler lifestyle and smaller footprint. He also owns the Four Lights Tiny House Company, which provides designs, accessories, and guidance.
Shafer points out that there's always been a "tiny house" movement that's swung in and out of vogue over time—think Henry David Thoreau out at Walden Pond—but it's become more mainstream since the housing-bubble bust of 2008. "It really snapped some people back into reality, away from the idea of resale value and back to the idea of use-value," Shafer said.
Hallmarks of the tiny house lifestyle include a more sustainable lifestyle: You're using less energy to run the home, and there's generally no room for non-essentials, so you're not wasting money on things you don't really need. For example, he says, "Every time I buy a book, I get rid of a book, which keeps my library top-notch in terms of quality and it's not too big." Overall, this translates to "more freedom because you don't have to take care of extra stuff, extra space, or work extra to take care of that extra stuff," said Shafer. "So it's very liberating."
Making smart use of space
So how small is a small house? "I've never defined a small house or a tiny house very concretely," he said. "Any house is a small house in which all the space is used well. And by that definition I feel anybody can actually be a part of it. Even if somebody feels like they need 4,000 square feet for themselves, they can at least get some ideas on how to use that space more efficiently and maybe reconsider their needs overall."
If you're thinking about a small house but not sure you want to completely downsize, Shafer offers this advice: "Getting started is the hard part because that entails a psychological self-evaluation. The way I wound up doing it is by paying attention to what I would take camping. And then for a longer trip, and then just imagine a very long trip. Once you start thinking about backpacking, for example, you don't want to take any extra stuff because you're going to have to carry it up the hill. And just take what you need and nothing else, because if it ain't working for you, it's working against you. That's a good way to start."
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