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Tiny Houses

Tiny houses. They sound cute, harmless; perhaps populated by Hobbits or other adorably petite magical folk, but according to Wikipedia, they are a cultural phenomenon. A movement. A THING. The tiny house movement involves a group of folks who have decided that for a variety of reasons, they’d prefer to live, as they describe it, affordably, simply, and sustainably, in a small house. Not just any small house, though. A very small house, practically microscopic, usually built on the frame of a tow-behind trailer and made to be portable. These houses are so tiny you can live like a modern-day nomad and literally hook your house up to a truck and tow it to wherever you want to live, plop a welcome mat outside and call it home, sweet, home.

So what’s wrong with that? Poverty appropriation, that’s what.

The folks whose job it is to hate everything written from this type of perspective, perhaps unsurprisingly, hate this perspective.

This is kind of an interesting debate to me. Despite generally disliking the “appropriation” angle (anyone who’d like to eat mac and cheese with hot dogs mixed into it alongside me, please feel free, I raise my glass of watered-down Kool Aid to you in tribute, I actually DO find tiny houses and some of the attitudes of those who tend to dwell within them, to be kind of offensive to my sensibilities as a poor-ish person. Because tiny houses are not cheap houses and the tiny house lifestyle is not always, or even usually, simple or sustainable – at least not without a ready supply of cash to support it. It’s not a new opinion, not based on any of these articles, it’s something the husband and I have occasionally discussed ever since tiny houses became a thing. We don’t like it.

To give a little context here, my husband grew up in a miniscule Forest Service trailer in a Forest Service employee trailer park and was a tiny houser before it was cool. Additionally, our family has lived in small houses with Floor tiles that look like they are from the victorian era for the entire 25 year span of our marriage. For several years, we had 5 children in a 2 bedroom house with one bathroom – 2 kids slept in modified closets, one in the attic, whoever was a baby at the time slept in our bed with us, and we all developed excellent bladder control. We have since moved with our three youngest children and 13 Buff Orpington chickens to a very rural cabin completely off the grid. (Our older two, in case you were wondering, are now adults and stayed behind in our original house. The chickens, in case you were wondering, are also now adults and live outside.) Our cabin is larger than our previous house, but not by much, and like the majority of tiny houses, we’re off the grid. Our power comes from the sun and from propane, our heat from wood. So I feel fairly qualified to comment upon the slightly annoying tiny house trend.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not keeping me up at night dwelling on the injustice of it all or anything. But I do find something offputting about people, at least some of whom look down their nose at trailer courts full of redneck breeders with junk in their yard and avert their eyes entirely at the poorest of the poor, the true nomads who move from cheap rental to cheap rental one step ahead of eviction, plunking down tens of thousands in ready cash to buy a tiny house that they can then live in only because they have the money to live “sustainably”.

Some tiny houses cost nearly as much as an affordable, small regular house does. Others are cheaper, but still pretty spendy.  Real Property Management Citywide in Lawrenceville handles a broad list of good options for tiny houses. Prices range from $20k through 75K on average. They’re quite expensive for what they are; claiming anything that costs tens of thousands of dollars is in any way economical is like wearing a fur coat and passing it off as a secondhand cardigan because you got it on sale for 10% off.

Tiny houses are a status symbol, no denying it. They’re not just small houses, you see. They are brilliantly designed and magnificently outfitted small houses- they have to be to be able to allow a person to live comfortably in such a small space. Being portable, most are not hooked up to traditional sources of power, relying instead upon solar and propane appliances, and those ain’t cheap. And those costs don’t even cover a piece of land to park it on and other related amenities like water and sewer hookups, also very expensive if they are even allowed. Nor does it cover the cost of a reliable truck-type vehicle to tow it with (15-40k depending on age of vehicle) or the gas and other vehicle/travel related expenses for the romantic gypsyhearts who plan to roam the country with their tiny house, sometimes is better to travel with a Tasmania motorhome hire instead of a presonal vehicle, it is way cheaper.

While some financing is available in the form of RV loans, it takes a lot of ready cash to get into the tiny house lifestyle. This is something that those who live paycheck to paycheck don’t have. Tiny houses are often promoted as being affordable, even economical, but for many, a 75k tiny house or a 300k McMansion are equally unattainable, the difference between a trip to the Moon or a trip to Mars. The idea of ever accumulating that kind of money to blow on what is essentially a fancy garden shed feels crazy to anyone without that kind of money. But technically speaking, you can actually start growing vegetables inside for further economic reasons. In order to build our cabin, it took my husband and I 20 years of constant scrimping and saving and foregoing pleasures that others take for granted such as days off and new underwear and even accruing some credit card debt (naughty, naughty, irresponsible poor folk are we) to make it happen. It wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t a thriftshopping cheapskate who never pays full price for anything and he wasn’t extremely handy and highly resourceful, building the place all by himself using a significant amount of scrounged material he procured from a series of very interesting Russians. It wasn’t at all easy and is not something that most would have the stamina to do, building a house bit by bit for 20 years, but that’s the kind of effort it takes people in our tax bracket to accomplish a dream like that.

We ended up with an unassuming place on a sspectacular piece of land at the end of it, while still keeping our our first home as a backup plan or hopefully a future return on our investment. I just cannot imagine making that kind of sacrifice for a walk-in closet built on a horse trailer. There’s no real security in that, especially for those tiny housers who don’t even own the land they’ve parked on. Anyone who has the freedom to pursue that living situation is either insanely irresponsible or has more money to spare than the average lower middle class family – certainly more cash on hand than a family living below the poverty line.

Owning a home is security, particularly for those of us without a lot of other resources. But a tiny house isn’t security in the way that owning land is security or a home is security. It’s really more of a recreational thing, like buying a boat or an RV. I can’t imagine anyone going into it thinking a tiny house will have gained value by the time they retire. I can’t imagine a bank loaning money for a future purchase using a tiny house as collateral. It’s not an investment, it’s not a necessity, it’s a splurge for people who don’t need to have anything solid to own in 20 years because they can afford the luxury of not having it. I don’t believe for a minute that the majority of people who buy tiny houses are really doing it to save money. The math just doesn’t make sense. It takes too much ready cash to get started. It’s too great a sacrifice in terms of long term financial security to sink so much into so little. But that’s ok, after all, many of the people who choose the tiny house lifestyle aren’t claiming to be frugal, they’re claiming that their desire is to live more simply, more sustainably. Of course, those things cost too.

The costs of simplicity, of sustainability, don’t end with the buying of a tiny house. They don’t end with finding a piece of land to plunk it on, they don’t end with the $900 top of the line Dometic fridge mentioned in one of the links above, which I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have but cannot afford. (We make do with an old rusty propane fridge we bought used on Craigslist from a fine Ukrainian gent and we have NO freezer. Ice cream is not something we eat, except on special occasions in the hottest part of the summer when we scrape together our pennies and buy a box of ice cream sandwiches that we wolf down as quickly as we can before they melt.) We could easily have our old chiller fixed by Chiller Maintenance Engineer because of their low price but we decided it would be better on in the future.

No, aside from the obvious costs, living that “sustainable” lifestyle comes with a huge price tag attached to it. It is not a lifestyle that any poor person living in tiny houses by default can attain. And it’s not because the products marketed as sustainable are invariably more expensive, even though they are. It’s because of the nature of a tiny house itself. You can’t keep much of anything in them. Their very smallness precludes the kind of make-it-do resourcefulness that many less monetarily gifted folk pride themselves on. One of the untold secrets of successful poverty is the accumulation of stuff. That’s the reason why poor people have junk outside their house. It’s a matter of practicality. When something comes your way, you don’t know if you’ll have another chance at it, so it’s best to hang onto it. It’s not because we don’t value simplicity or sustainability, it’s not because we are greedy or have a hoarding disorder, it’s because we are in a foxhole mindset and may NEED that stuff eventually.

If you suddenly find yourself in dire need of an air filter from a 1983 Chevy Monte Carlo and you’re broke, having a parts car in the yard means that you can go to work on Monday. If your shirt gets dirty or ruined in the process of changing that air filter and you don’t have $20 to buy a new one, all of a sudden it makes a lot more sense that you hung onto that “Frampton Comes Alive” t-shirt so you can wear it when you work on the car. How could you keep enough tools to fix a car in a tiny house, or even to do basic automotive maintenance like changing the oil or filling a flat tire? Obviously, you can’t, and that indicates the kind of lifestyle where a newer car is owned and maintained by others in exchange for money, I always recommend to read the Husky tool chest review because it could really make your life easier in so many ways. How could you clothe yourself without either the ability to store at least some of your wardrobe – seasonal clothes or dressy stuff, the things you need occasionally but don’t wear often – or the ability to buy clothing on demand? Again, you probably can’t, and so that implies a level of discretionary income that others don’t have. Either you buy new clothes as needed, or you pay for a storage closet…and if you pay for a self storage, are you really truly doing all your living in that tiny space?

Food is another area where tiny houses fail the “simple and sustainable” test. Since I live in the country, drive old cars, and can’t guarantee an unexpected expense will not arise in any given week, I buy 50 lbs of rice and flour and large buckets of cocoa and Tang and powdered milk to have on hand in case I can’t get to the store due to weather, or to fill in any gaps in our meals during lean times when someone gets sick and needs a trip to the doctor or the solar inverter goes out, I{m barely able to pay my insurance car, thank god I found this car insurance at insurance4motortrade.co.uk which is really affordable. I also buy things as they go on sale and store them to use during times when they aren’t. And of course, every Washington State mom’s secret weapon – Costco. It’s more economical buying large quantities in advance, but it does take up a fair amount of space. Now, if you have the ability to simply hop in your new car and gas it up and drive to Whole Foods for a prepackaged tossed salad and a kombucha for dinner every night that’s great, but simple and sustainable it is not. (Not to mention the landfill choking single-serve packaging, yikes!)

The same goes for literally everything else. Books, movies, music, video games, exercise equipment, lattes, pretty much anything you can think of – if one has the money to buy a digital version of your preferred entertainment, and/or high speed Internet and various subscriptions to streaming services, and/or a 4G data plan, and/or a gym membership, it may allow that one to live in a smaller house uncluttered with bourgeois crapola, but is it really any more simple or sustainable than the person who watches used DVDs while riding an old exercise bike and sipping a homemade cup of coffee instead of a Starbucks one? Being able to live in a small space because everything has been outsourced to places accessible via automobile or Internet connection is really not quite the same thing as, like, being Amish or something.

I’m sure that at least some of the tiny housers do walk the walk as well. But let’s not pretend that having the luxury of living with absolutely no long term ability to meet one’s most basic needs without a ready source of cash, is in any way frugal. If anything, it’s the height of consumerism to know that at any moment you need any thing, or any service, you can simply dash off and buy it. It is a freedom that poor and lower middle class people do not have and indicates nothing about one’s light and fluffy carbon footprint. After all, it’s not exactly a light carbon footprint if you rely upon the existence of stores full of goods and services to be available whenever you need them. If you don’t have stuff because you don’t NEED stuff because you have the money to buy any stuff that you need at a moment’s notice and a vast free market infrastructure consistently bringing it to a Walmart near you, it’s really tantamount to having stuff, isn’t it? Just because you store it, well, in a store, and access it after spending money, I see no appreciable moral difference between that and storing something in an attic that you access via a rickety ladder and an unfortunate encounter with some cobwebs.

If anything, I find the tiny house lifestyle wasteful (using the standards of simplicity and sustainability to judge, not my own personal standards, of course). There are empty houses and vacant apartments all across the United States. There are entire small towns and inner city neighborhoods nationwide decaying because no one lives in them. They’re just rotting, their economic value decreasing with every passing year. That is truly wasteful.  It’s such an immense waste of resources to take money that could have been spent refurbishing, reusing, and recycling an already existing structure and put it into a new one if your self-stated purpose is living sustainably. Most tiny housers desire a rural lifestyle, it’s true, but many of these old, abandoned dwellings are in the country. Within an hour of where I sit, there are at least a dozen beautiful vacant farmhouses with spectacular views and spectacular privacy, already hooked up to water and power – two of the largest expenses for tiny housers. And most of them are for sale. A rural home could be converted to solar power for a similar price as adding solar to a tiny house. And since they are real houses, the zoning issues many tiny housers have faced would be nonexistent. A person could have nearly everything they wanted from a tiny house without the hassle, by taking that same bundle of ready cash they’re considering blowing on that tiny house and putting it into an older home.

And as for city life, living in an apartment within walking distance of stores and jobs and entertainment is more sustainable by far than driving back and forth for many miles in all kinds of weather to do the most basic of things (this is a very real downside of living in the country that is more life-impacting, even oppressive, than many dreamers realize) You wouldn’t even have to own a car, let alone a gas-guzzling pickup capable of hauling a heavy trailer around. It would be totally sustainable, you’d leave a very light carbon footprint indeed. If you believe you could easily live in a tiny house, living in an apartment would be a piece of cake.

All this adds up to one unavoidable truth. The tiny house thing is not really about saving money. It isn’t about living sustainably or saving the planet. It is people doing a thing that they want to do because they think it’s cool. And that is awesome! It is awesome that people have a dream and pursue it. It’s awesome we live in a country that is free enough to allow people to chase their dreams. That’s what life is all about, you know? Enjoying it. We only get one life and if you want to live it in a tiny house on the back of a trailer, have at it. It’s that darn moral superiority that’s the issue. Nobody who has the kind of money it takes to get into a tiny house should ever, ever raise an eyebrow at the bemulleted dude wearing a tattered “Frampton Comes Alive” t-shirt, sitting on his trailer porch with a cold one in his hand when he probably should be sorting his recyclables. He’s doing the best he can to enjoy his life, he only gets one too. Yeah, he probably doesn’t love the planet as much as you but he very well may have a smaller carbon footprint.

Image by byzantiumbooks


Staff Writer
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Kristin is huge geek, a libertarian, and a mother of 4 sons and a daughter. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor.

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58 thoughts on “Tiny Houses

  1. As someone who has been where you are (i.e. poor), yeah, it’s irksome. Buying an upscale RV & calling it a tiny house is still just buying an RV to live in.

    And this (glorious, btw) rant captures the why it’s irksome perfectly.

    PS whereabouts in WA are you, again? I seem to recall something about Eastern part of the state.

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    • It’s kind of like the whole “van life” movement, where there is a crew of “beautiful” 20-somethings who have these vans kitted out (more or less (1)) to live in, and they drive around like nomads and make that life look so photogenic and wonderful.

      And then, I read a story about a woman in, I want to say West Virginia? Who was a teacher but lost her job and now she lives in her van, and it’s kind of awful and they talked about how precarious everything was for her – needing new tires was a literal crisis, because it came down to “do I buy the tires, or do I have the medications for my Type II diabetes for the next 2 months?”

      I used to kind of like the idea of tiny houses, years ago, when they first came out, but now they are EVERYWHERE and there does seem to be that sort of smug attitude attached to some who go for them: “Oh, I have EXPERIENCES and not STUFF” or “I’m living lightly on the land!”

      Gag me with a spoon, as they used to say back in the 80s. It does seem very much a phenomenon of the privileged to want to do this. (Also, having lived where ice storms that shut things down for a week or more are a thing: I twitch at the idea of not having a lot of storage for canned goods/dry food that could be an emergency pantry)

      It’s gotten to the point of parody, though: there was a godawful Lifetime movie over the weekend called Tiny House of Terror. It was as awful as you might imagine and I mostly hate-watched it….

      (1) The problem with a lot of the tiny houses/van life for me is that a lot of them don’t have BATHROOMS. The expectation is you either use a privy some distance from the house, or in a van, you use the bathrooms at the campground you’re staying at (or, I suppose, if you’re a guy: the world is your litterbox as far as #1 goes). My mom grew up in a house without indoor plumbing and she talks about what it was like, and to this day, the modcon I am a-number-1 grateful for is indoor plumbing and especially indoor toilets. Well, in this climate, A/C is a close second, but I’d rather have an indoor bathroom than A/C if I were forced to choose.

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      • I had similar thoughts. Every documentary on the small house movement made me hate the kind of people who seemed to be attracted to them. I appreciate people learning to build their own and developing the skills of the craft, but I will stick to my study full of books over the minimalist approach to life.

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  2. Not to derail the conversation in the second comment, but, as a person that grew up in a relatively small city apartment, with all my relatives, and most friends, growing up in similar city apartments, I can’t understand the USA obsession with the large suburban house, and particularly,the idea that children MUST group up in houses.

    As the now owner of my (first) inner ring suburban house (*), all 2,000 sq.ft. of it, I’m full of ideas to tear it down and build a smaller house in the same plot (**) . We don’t need that much space, and, as we approach upper middle age, a smaller house would be much better.

    (*) Up to 2006, I had lived in apartments all my life.

    (**) My land plot has gone crazily up in value, and represents like 80% of the value of an eleven year old house. I can tear it down and get a loan from the bank to rebuild it guaranteed only by the land plot. My neighbours across the street (empty nesters) are doing just that, though in his case he’s building a house twice the size. Why do they need a big house that they will only occupy partially? As an investment, when it comes time to sell it, it will be a McMansion.

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    • @j_a

      LeeEsq is the historical expert here but he has pointed out that this is a centuries old Anglo-origin tradition. Houses were proper living, apartments were not. It might not even be unique to the United States but found all over the Anglo world.

      Though it may be also the continued legacy of New Deal offering white or whitish Americans a chance to live in housing instead of over-crowded apartments without good light and resources. My grandparents largely grew up poor in NYC and their teenage years were during the Great Depression. My maternal grandparents moved to a very modest Cape Cod in New Hyde Park on a draftman’s salary. This must have been a minor miracle to them. During their youth, NYC summers were filled with human health hazards that led to Polio outbreaks. The first summer camps were created by Jews to get their children out of NYC during the summer so Polio was avoided.

      And frankly we have a lot of space. I like my one bedroom apartment for me and maybe for me and my girlfriend but I wouldn’t want to live with kids in a two bedroom apartment and no space of my own. I look at SF housing for sale from time to time and NYC housing. As much as I love both cities, you have to spend an astronomical amount of money to get a decent amount of space. Say I had a 1.5 million budget to purchase a home for me and my future family. In NYC or SF you could get something decent but still problematic. In the inner-ring suburbs, you could get a really nice house like this:

      https://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/Mill-Valley-CA/pmf,pf_pt/19262927_zpid/19379_rid/globalrelevanceex_sort/37.945145,-122.428036,37.796899,-122.7178_rect/11_zm/

      I love cities but I find it hard to justify paying this much to live in a 2 bed, 1 bath room apartment to stay in one.

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    • My house is 1300 sq ft for 2 adults, a kid, and a big dog. We have plans to buy a second property on Whidbey, but that too will be between 1000 & 1500 sq ft (I suspect the shop I plan to build will be larger than the house…).

      I never understood the obsession with big houses, just more square footage that I have to clean, or pay to have cleaned. And the heating/AC bills… sheesh!

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      • A friend of ours started a small business about 10 years ago that has blown up and he’s now making a LOT of money. They just bought a 7,500 sq ft house. It’s obscene. When he showed me the pictures it was really hard to be enthusiastic.

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        • I think my limit is about 2200 sq ft. We rented a house that large for a few years, and I felt like I was lost in it half the time. It was nice and all, but a lot of work to clean and heat. I’d rather spend my money on a small house and nice outdoor living features (patio, pool, etc.).

          The first thing we did with our current house was replace the postage stamp backyard with a paver patio, then I bought a nice BBQ and hooked it to the household gas line (that was a fun summer day spent under the house changing the gas lines…), and I am right now putting the finishing touches on a new back fence with a large incorporated pergola.* I like to be outside more than in.

          *The old fence was a privacy fence that had rotted out posts. The wind liked to tear it out during the winter storm. The new fence has the pickets in a shadow box arrangement, a bit less privacy, but the wind can pass through. And 4 of the posts are 6×6 to support the pergola, which attaches to the side of the house and extends 14′ over the patio. We plan to hang lights and plants and shade from it, since the backyard gets a ton of sun.

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        • When my brother started his career, he mostly worked on designing those houses. When he broke off to start his own firm, he would do urban infill, now he is making money hand over fist, as he was one of the few able to weather the housing bust.

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    • Americans have idealized the single family home since forever. It relates to the long anti-urban bias in the United States. Like Saul noted, when Manhattan became so populous and dense, this was after the Civil War, that solidly middle class and upper middle class people couldn’t afford townhouses of their own, there was a lot of apprehension. Anglo-Saxon Protestant people lived in homes of their own even if they were townhouses without a garden. They most certainly did not live in apartments with other families.

      Long before the car existed, many of the roomier American cities liked to fashion themselves as cities of homes, meaning single family homes, because they had space to spread. Its just kind of built in that people want a big home with a large garden.

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  3. Kristen,
    So, um, are the people actively trying to eliminate the rural trailer park culture looking down their noses at those folks??

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  4. It kind of reminds me of the love of Thoreau’s Walden.

    I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

    I mean, on one level, this sounds romantic and a goal that you could see as being worth achieving. Maybe not in your 40’s… but for a year in your 20’s? Hell, yes.

    But then you read some of the stuff about how this cabin was a 20 minutes’ walk from his main house and he tended to go into town to eat at the houses of his friends and between here and there he dropped off his laundry at his mom’s… well, that paragraph reads differently.

    It’s LARPing.

    And when I read about the Tiny House movement, I see people LARPing.

    Nothing wrong with LARPing. People need a hobby. It’s the “my hobby is a *MORAL* lifestyle” that gets me to curl my lip a bit.

    Edit: Forgot to mention… *AWESOME* essay.

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    • Yeah, I have always side-eyed Thoreau. I had heard about him when younger, first read him when I was in my 30s, and I was like “DUDE, you are mooching off the Emersons like at least once a week. That’s not….really….self-reliance.”

      I might have felt differently if I were still an idealistic late-teen when I read it, might have overlooked that stuff, but as a grown-butt woman earning her own bread, it made me roll my eyes a little. (I wonder: if Thoreau were alive today, would he be living in his parents’ basement and writing a lifestyle blog?)

      And oh my goodness, yes, to the frustration with “hobby as a moral lifestyle” thing; this is my complaint with some of those that could be described as “hipsters.” I love a good Farmer’s Market as the next person, but I don’t need the people self-righteously telling me how it’s more *authentic* than the grocery store.

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  5. Yeah agreed Kristen, there’s so much going wrong with the whole Tiny House foofaraw.

    I’m beginning to wonder if appropriation might be one of the most useless terms in the new family of arch-liberal shibboleths. I mean there’s a nugget of “there” there in microagressions, likewise with trigger warnings but the appropriation criticism has so little substantive merit to it, in such a massively narrow context, and has enormously poisonous illiberal implications that I’m honestly beginning to think it’s the ultimate poseur criticism.

    Now, that being said, I would gently push back on your carbon footprint argument a bit. Absolutely tiny house dwellers would depend on a constellation of stores and services to provide what their tiny house cannot. That being granted it’s still an environmental win in that multiple tiny dwellings using a single centralized service for, say, laundry or the like still is more efficient and less carbon generating than the same number of normal housing each with their own personal laundry facility. But, as you point out, you can get the same result from renting an apartment and walking to the Laundromat.

    I mean, hell, the very existence of Tiny Houses is basically a side effect of the anti-density/NIMBY/Granola-nonsense anti development fetish that people harbor coupled with the growing demand for housing in high value/demand areas. It’s not even a solution either. The same NIMBY who would burn themselves at a stake before permitting a multifamily building to go into their urban or near urban single family home neighborhood isn’t going to let people park a bunch of twee tiny houses in the alleys, parks and parking spaces either.

    We’ve seen first world communities build up to extremely high levels of density and still maintain living standards. Our in demand areas here in the US are nowhere near developed to that degree. Maybe if we got to that level and still had housing issues we could talk about weird alternatives but right now “Tiny Houses” are just a distraction from economically illiterate poor people and the wealthy land owning residents who are using them as fig leaves to justify pursuing their own narrowly construed economic interests.

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    • If you poison a body slowly enough, it is more difficult to see it dying.
      Deliberately suffusing the left with illiberal ideas is a grand scheme, all the more so because it doesn’t require continued maintenance.

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    • I find myself in agreement with basically every sentence of your post. A few thoughts:

      I’m beginning to wonder if appropriation might be one of the most useless terms in the new family of arch-liberal shibboleths.

      Technically, no, the most useless is probably ‘micro-aggression’. ;) A term that also describes a real thing but not only does no one not understand what it is supposed to apply to, it’s a stupid term to describe what it does apply to!

      Appropriation is just misunderstood…it is a reasonable term, in itself, it’s just that morons keep using it in places where it’s not appropriate. (People are appropriating the term appropriation!)

      For example, poor people do not have small houses as part of their culture, they have small houses because they cannot afford larger ones. Likewise, poor people do not have ‘less stuff’ than rich people as part of their culture…in fact, poor people have more stuff than rich people, as the article points…they have more because they are less likely to throw semi-functional stuff away.

      That’s not to say there are not cultural practices that exist within trailer parks, although I suspect those differ just as widely based on geography as any other poor culture. But perhaps there is some trailer-park specific thing. In theory it would be possible to appropriate that, but no one seems to be doing that.

      I mean, yes, there’s a dumbass bar doing that, with a really shallow idea of ‘trailer park culture’, for hipsters, but hipsters do that to everyone and their culture! Which is half the reason why everyone thinks they are assholes. (I rather wonder if we didn’t have hipsters, would there even be enough cultural appropriation to notice at this point in time?)

      If there’s any ‘culture’ that’s being appropriated by this supposed tiny house movement (That in reality consists of probably a hundred people.), it’s hippy culture, not poor culture. Except those people really are hippies, or at least what hippies have evolved into. Rich hippies.

      That being granted it’s still an environmental win in that multiple tiny dwellings using a single centralized service for, say, laundry or the like still is more efficient and less carbon generating than the same number of normal housing each with their own personal laundry facility. But, as you point out, you can get the same result from renting an apartment and walking to the Laundromat.

      You can get better results, actually.

      It’s pretty easy to figure out the most ‘sustainable’ form of housing, because the most sustainable is pretty close to the ‘cheapest to operate’, plus solar panels and water collectors or whatever. And thus all you have to do is look at what sort of government-built or government-subsidized housing is there.

      And it’s….apartments. Because apartments share walls, and thus the cost of heating and cooling them is much lower. Even if everyone has their own climate control that can run at different levels, all the interior walls are going to be 65-75, and doors open into hallway air.

      Additionally, laundry can always be within walking distance. (How many of those tiny house owners do you suspect are driving the laundry, thus undoing any ‘sustainable’ gains they made?) Trash pickup also requires much less travel for pickup. You need less paved roads to handle the same amount of people, and less parking. (Yes, cars take up the same space, but 100 parking spaces in a parking lot takes up much less space and much less paving than 100 driveways.)

      And if you actually care about ‘harm to the planet’, instead of just cheapness, you can put stores on the lower level and reducing driving to other location.

      We’ve seen first world communities build up to extremely high levels of density and still maintain living standards. Our in demand areas here in the US are nowhere near developed to that degree. Maybe if we got to that level and still had housing issues we could talk about weird alternatives but right now “Tiny Houses” are just a distraction from economically illiterate poor people and the wealthy land owning residents who are using them as fig leaves to justify pursuing their own narrowly construed economic interests.

      I am not sure what you mean by ‘economically illiterate poor people’, but otherwise, yes.

      Although, as I have pointed out, all too often this NIMBYism about high density housing is also NIMBYism about mass transit, and the two problems compound each other.

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      • DavidTC,
        Trailer Parks have the Single Family Dwelling as a part of their culture.
        Where I live now, folks used to be quite poor, but they had LARGER houses than normal. Because the whole damn family (uncles and grandma and gramps included), lived there.

        Yes, there would still be appropriation. Have you seen the latest Castlevania cartoon?

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      • Well basically a poor resident of any given area who is economically literate would be in favor of development, as much of it at whatever price point is possible. Since they aren’t property owners they don’t have the same vested NIMBY incentives; while they might not like more traffic or population density they’d find lower rents and housing costs deeply in their interests. So there isn’t really any rational economic argument that suggests that poor people should be anti-development.

        I see your point on micro-aggressions but the transparent incoherence of micro-aggressions makes them less harmful in my mind whereas the appropriation speak not only is coherent to a greater degree but is also profoundly and poisonously anti-liberal.

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        • Well basically a poor resident of any given area who is economically literate would be in favor of development, as much of it at whatever price point is possible. Since they aren’t property owners they don’t have the same vested NIMBY incentives; while they might not like more traffic or population density they’d find lower rents and housing costs deeply in their interests. So there isn’t really any rational economic argument that suggests that poor people should be anti-development.

          Ah, okay. Yes, that is right.

          There are a lot of people who have weirdly internalized all sorts of things that are bad for wealth people as being ‘bad’, when in reality they’re not that bad for poor people.

          Inflation, for example. Inflation is bad for wealthy people who sit on their money. It is possibly bad for people without any monetary assets who have jobs, as wages tend to lag behind prices, but it’s not that bad, at moderate levels. It’s an actual good thing for people with debt with a fixed interest rate.

          But, bam, the wealthy don’t like it, so all that is said in public is that it is bad.

          Same with property values. Guys, if you are renting, you want your property value to go down, not up. I mean, if it goes down because of some actual disaster, like an oil pipeline explodes in a neighbor’s back yard, okay, perhaps you don’t want that. But if it goes down because of the sort of stupid stuff that people normally think makes property values go down, like a liquor store opening nearby, you should actually sit down and think ‘Is the harm of this liquor store going go hurt me enough (Or even at all!) to counter the fact that lower property values mean rents will drop in this area?’

          Of course, the problem with housing is pretty much the exact same problem as with the stock market. The point of owning part of a company is that the company pays you part of their income every year or so. The point of owning a house is that hey, you have a place to live. Even the point of owning a house rented to other people is, again, income every month.

          Instead, people use both the stock market and housing to speculate. They buy, and hold on to it, and hope it rises in value when they sell it.

          What’s even worse, with housing, they’ve convinced everyone that’s how it’s supposed to work. That you buy houses as an investment.

          Which would be fine, people can do whatever stupid shit they want, but they are in the same market as the rest of us, and their speculator bullshit is breaking everything for us. People can, of course, mostly avoid the stock market, but everyone has to have a place to live.

          On top of this housing speculation, I dunno, causing a bubble and a huge recession, for a totally random example, a decade ago, it also results in complete nonsense with the valuation of real estate (exactly like random events cause huge variations in stock prices) because investors want prices moving. They want them up when they own, and down when they don’t, but that just means that everything is a hair trigger and moves for totally moronic reasons that have nothing to do with anything.

          I am not some sort of economic expert, but it’s pretty damn easy to see that there are ‘rational prices’ markets like for hairbrushes and soft drinks and even cars, where normal rules of supply and demand apply, and then there’s gibberish ‘speculators run rampant causing totally random price variations’ markets like housing and stocks.

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          • Inflation is a bad example. Inflation is basically the depreciation of the real value of money. It is neutral with respect to non monetary assets. i.e. if everything is more expensive, the only people who have it easier are those for whom the marginal value of the dollar is less. i.e. the rich.

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            • I don’t even vaguely understand why you claim the ‘only’ people who will have thing easier is the rich.

              It is very very obvious that if someone owes $200,000 on a house at a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, and inflation happens, they will find it easier to pay off the house, because $200,000 is easier to procure if it is worth less.

              You seem to be under the weird idea that inflation only causes the price of goods to change, when in reality it causes wages to change, also.

              And thus what inflation actually harms is people who are holding on to money as money. Or, technically speaking, inflation harms assets that are denominated in dollars.

              Now, the rich tend to not hold on to huge amounts of their assets as money, but they still hold more than poor people. If a guy is worth 100 million in mostly stock and 1% inflation happens, most of the 100 million is not affected by it (So is now 1% more in dollars, or exactly the same in value.), but some percentage of that was with dollars or denominate in dollars. He won’t be worth a million dollars less, but he might be worth $200,000 less.

              Whereas many poor people have negative assets if you count everything that is denominated in dollars, which means inflation helps them.

              —-

              Now, it is possible to argue that wages are stickier than prices, so, as wages lag, low-income people can suffer harm.

              But I believe that wages lagging behind prices, at least not more than six months or so, is not any sort of real ‘lag’, and I think a lot of what people are mistaking for that in the US economy is actually wages decreasing over the last few decades, and the decrease numbers just sorta being canceled out by inflation numbers so everyone thinks they are ‘staying the same’.

              If middle- and lower-class wages don’t eventually ‘unstick’, and they haven’t, for literally three decades, that isn’t ‘wage-stickiness’, that’s just normal income inequality that got masked by inflation.

              Addition: Or to say it simpler: I think that if we had had literally no inflation over the last three decades, wages would have, numerically, gone down. Likewise, if we had twice times as much inflation, wages would have gone basically up half that amount. The up of inflation plus the down of wage reduction just mostly ‘happened’ to coincide, except that leaving the wages at the place they ‘already were’ was an easy way to hide what had happened.

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              • It is very very obvious that if someone owes $200,000 on a house at a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, and inflation happens, they will find it easier to pay off the house, because $200,000 is easier to procure if it is worth less.

                The point I was making was that just because your debt is worth less doesn’t mean its easier to repay. Nominal wages are sticky. There is a reason why some people lose their jobs during recessions rather than everyone takes a pay cut. If not for inflation, nominal wages would still not have decreased.

                One of the reasons why QE “worked*” was because it reduced real wages sufficiently so that employing those people was profitable again.

                *It got at least some of the numbers in better shape. But given the anemic recovery and the long term effect that it had on real wages, I don’t know whether that counts as working.

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  6. This was great.

    There’s also the matter that a great deal of content of HGTV (et al) shows is fake in some way. (E.g. the house hunters show the featured buyer has already purchased their house when filming starts. The other properties are just dummies)

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      • Ha ha, right on the nose.

        I kind of hate those shows because of all the manufactured drama. I remember when HGTV was mostly about making stuff and decorating your existing house on a budget. Now it seems to be much more “aspirational,” as in, “people with cooler lives and more money than you have looking for a house in a place you’d never be able to afford to live, even if you could find a job there,” and what’s the fun in that?

        I have a small house (about 1300 square feet) but it’s not “tiny.” (Built 1946). I own an inherited baby-grand piano, so I could never do a truly tiny house, unless I was willing to do something insane like sleep on the floor under my piano. Because the piano is a non-negotiable. (That’s the other thing about the tiny house shows that bugs me: “Well, this is an heirloom dresser my great-grandfather made from the wood of the chestnut trees that were on his property that died during the chestnut blight.” “Sorry, it’s too big, you gotta jettison it….or maybe we cut it up and use the wood for a cutting board?”)

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        • (That particular joke template is one floating around the twitters)

          The shows are like pro wrestling or pornography. They benefit from a soft focus lens and not thinking too much about how, yeah, the performers are not working each other as much as working the audience.

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        • I watched a lot of HGTV recently while being parked in the waiting room during a series of medical appointments. I remember thinking during one particularly long wait that I would prefer not to encounter the real agents in real life, but they would have been entitled to tell the house hunters just to pitch a tent in the woods.
          My recollection of HGTV from my wife and daughter watching it many years ago was competitions of landscapers proposing different ways to accentuate the water features with plant materials.

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          • It’s Reality TV. There has to be a narrative, a conflict with a resolution. If it’s just “we looked for a house and found one” then there’s no drama, no sense of “will they get what they want, or will have have to SETTLE FOR LESS”. If it’s just “here was our plan, we executed it” there can be no dramatic “we really wanted this feature but we found ASBESTOS” moments.

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            • DD,
              And yet, curiously, there’s never any mention of the mob, or of divorce, or of any way to strongarm your counterparty. (or, god forbid, your FHA loan not working with your dream house)

              … because reality is always stranger than fiction.

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  7. Kristin,

    I basically agree with your post, but someone has to be contrary, so I will very gently push back on two points:

    1) Part of the the tiny house movement is an effort to not accumulate stuff. We have a 2700 sq ft home that seems to get more and more full every year. My wife and I fantasize about down-sizing to force to get rid of all that junk. So…I do see the romance there.

    2) Because I spend a fair amount of time in rural areas I know quite a few people that live your lifestyle. What I have learned in many cases is that the couple could have very easily made more money because quite often they have a bunch of marketable skills. Often time the husbands sound like yours, very good with their hands, etc. The wives are awesome cooks, crafty, whatever. But there is also a certain romance for some with a lifestyle like yours. There’s a reason people love Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons. Simple people, living simple. So while you are right to push back on the tiny house stuff, don’t think that there isn’t a segment of the population that fantasizes about living a life just like yours too. I’m not saying you are guilty of that, but it’s the fact of things.

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    • If it weren’t so darn expensive, I’d recommend that you get a dumpster and fill it, which I did recently as a prelude to moving.

      It was amazing just how much stuff we tossed into that dumpster, with no remorse at all. There was some sadness, as for “I remember what we were like when we got that”.

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      • Unfortunately I come from classic Hoarder stock. It’s hard for me to just throw things away because I see value in just about everything. Where I am improving is by selling stuff like crazy on Facebook. Even if I get $5, it takes the sting out of things.

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      • The ‘bagster’ and its equivalents seem like a decent deal for what your getting. It’s more expensive per pound by nearly an order of magnitude than a full roll on roll off dumpster you’d find for a full renovation home construction project, but the total cost is much lower at the scale most people need. (And seems cheaper or at least more practical than a city/County special garbage collection order)

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  8. You know, this discussion makes me think of those monks who strive to live without killing insects, not to mention mammals or birds.

    For a human to exist requires other living things to die. I kind of appreciate it that people are working at figuring out just how few things, or types of things, have to die in order for humans to live, and the Tiny House people seem like they are taking an approach. Now some of these people can be highly obnoxious about it – there’s a guy in my town who’s car is plastered with “Meat is MURDER” bumper stickers. That’s the vegetarian idea of footprint reduction. A tiny-houser might be happy to eat meat, but is trying to reduce their count of possessions or carbon footprint.

    I’m sort of glad there are people who are figuring out the recipes for stuff like this, even if it appears we don’t especially need them now. It’s good to know what can be achieved.

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  9. An excellent post Kristin and many excellent comments, especially from Jay and North. I am generally under the impression that much of the Tiny House movement is a way for the youth to not live in their parents basement, while still living in the basement, so to speak. And yes, that often takes money, inter generational money. Because many of the things you describe, keeping a parts car around etc. are class markers for our society. And if there is one thing we have found out lately, class matters more than money*. So, the ability to live in a Tiny House (how is this different than a trailer, really?) shows not poverty of class, but of money, supposedly.

    But, in the area I grew up it wasn’t too hard to find a spot where hippies and ranchers lived in close proximity to each other and there would be all sorts of alternative living arrangements. Things such as yurts, cabins and shepherd trailers.

    Also, some people just don’t need that much space. They have interests and hobbies that have small footprints, they like to travel and don’t want to accumulate much, but they do want to have spot they can call home. And if they can find a good spot to keep the Tiny House, they are gold. While I have no interest in living in such cramped quarters, I also have no desire to live in either the city nor have acreage. To each their own.

    *Teachers vs. contractors, for example.

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    • I like Jaybird’s characterization of LARPing the best.

      I think the issue comes in when people say “oh, not-big house must mean not-big price, THIS IS THE SOLUTION TO THE HOUSING CRISIS”.

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  10. I’m curious about something, and I ask this with the greatest respect.

    If your house is off the grid, it seems to follow that you do not read or write the Internet at that location. Electricity would seem to be required. So how do you do that? Library? Job?

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  11. “Everybody hates a tourist, especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh.”

    However, I do understand the “voluntary minimalism” desire. For some people, the amount of stuff you have tends to expand to fill the available space. I moved from a house to an apartment a few years ago and had to get rid of a lot of stuff, yet still have boxes in the closet I haven’t touched and more clutter than my wife is happy with.

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  12. I’m concerned that you know you have 13 Buff Orpington chickens, like a person whose keeping way too close a track on how many people are in the lifeboat. Or is it the chickens who count off every morning?

    “Good. We’re all still here!”

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  13. this is actually not a tiny HOUSE (despite the headline, it’s a tiny STORE), but perhaps this is slightly related: Tiny house(store) stolen in Kansas

    I also heard of a case in Texas where an actual-house tiny house under construction was apparently stolen – it was being built on a trailer on someone’s land, and someone else drove up late at night, hitched up, and drove off.

    Which, I guess is another concern: with a stationary house, you might have to worry about stuff being stolen out of it, but with a tiny house on wheels, you could lose the whole thing to an enterprising thief.

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