Why Tiny Houses Can Save The World (Or At Least Make It A Little Better)
One of the great benefits of so much attention being placed on the tiny house movement is that it is inspiring a necessary dialogue about housing. Questions revolving around need vs frivolity, how small we can go, debt, environmental stewardship, happiness, relationships, and the future of mankind are being explored in a meaningful way within the context of housing size. This all comes at a historic time in which we are depleting our natural resources at a faster rate than we can replenish them. Continuing on our current housing and consumerism trajectory is unsustainable and thus, in this article we consider why tiny houses can save the world (or at least make it a little better).
We owe it to our planet
As a collective, we consume more natural resources than the planet can replenish and in the last 45 years, our demand for these resources has doubled. Housing and lifestyle choices are largely responsible for this trend. The environmental cost of building the US national average 2,598sf house is substantial. You’ll need about 16,000 board feet of lumber and 14,000sf of other wood products (such a plywood, etc.). This is the equivalent of 7 full logging trucks. Add on top of that concrete for the foundation, petroleum based products for roofing, etc., metals for heating and cooling systems, plus various other materials and you get a sense of how much goes into a house. It doesn’t stop there though. The amount of energy and materials used to build a house accounts for just 1/10th of the house’s total energy cost over its lifetime. In the US, buildings account for 38.9% of total energy consumption and 72% of total U.S. electricity consumption. Further, they contribute 38.9% of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions.
In contrast, tiny houses use significantly less resources. When comparing the average sized 2,500+ sf house to the average 186 sf tiny house, the amount of resources that go into building it are much less as is the energy required to condition it. One significant way that we can lower the amount of resources required to build and maintain a home is by making it smaller.
We owe it to our relationships
Communication is a corner stone of a functional family dynamic. Large houses create all sorts of nooks and crannies for families to disband to. According to the Census Bureau, the average household size (how many people living in a residence) in the US has declined from 3.01 in 1973 to 2.54 in 2013 but the average home size (by square footage) has increased by 61.4%. With the average new house in the US getting larger but households getting smaller, the square footage of living space per person in a new home has increased by a whopping 91.2%.
It’s easy to retreat behind a closed door in times of conflict in a larger abode and for people to avoid each other. In contrast, living in a tiny house invites a level of connection and relationship that supports the family connection. Issues that come up are dealt with swiftly, preventing an unnecessary festering of resentment. Close connections foster qualities such as open communication, understanding, patience, etc. The contrast we have seen in our family between living in a large house vs in hOMe, our tiny house, is stark. Our dynamic has never felt closer or healthier.
We owe it to ourselves
Financial worry is the primary source of stress for the average person and debt is a large part of that equation. More Americans are in housing debt than ever before. Debt is emotionally draining and that anxiety can cause severe health issues (insomnia, anxiety, ulcers, migraine, and even heart attacks). Living a life within one’s means allows a sense of ease that supports mind, body, and spirit, all of which are so necessary for a joyous life.
What would you do if you didn’t have a housing payment to worry and stress about? You would likely find yourself with more time and energy to do the things that you are passionate about, to work less, to create a daily practice for self reflection and recharging. What is your personal vision for your happiest life? It’s important to connect with that vision and to create changes in your life that moves you towards that goal. Nowhere in the top listed regrets of the dying does it say anything about, “I wish I had worked harder, had a bigger house, or had more money”. Instead, the common thread found in that research is that the dying wished that they had created more joy in their lives (and were surprised to see that the choice had been theirs all along).
We owe it to our bank accounts
In the US, the average cost of building a house is $246,453 (not including land costs). For that amount we could have built over 7 hOMes (which cost us $33,089.72). On top of that, the average utility cost for a conventionally sized house is $163 whereas in a tiny house it’s anywhere from $10-$40 per month. Along the lines of spending money, when living tiny, you just don’t have the physical space to amass unnecessary material goods. The potential to slash your spending costs is significant. The opportunity to get out of debt is much higher for those living in a tiny house than in an average house. According to Ryan Mitchell of TheTinyLife.com, 68% of tiny house owners have no mortgage and 65% have zero credit card debt.
Instead, imagine living in a house potentially built for less than a year’s worth of housing payments. For many people creating a tiny life, this is a reality. The benefits of living within one’s means are significant and what’s possible when one has no need to pay off debt (housing and consumer) is tremendous (early retirement, less time needing to work, more time for self care and with friends/family, etc.).
Cruising along on our current general trajectory as a society is not only unsustainable but comes at a significant financial, emotional, and environmental cost. The opportunity before us is to reassess our actual needs vs our perceived needs and to come back into living in a scale that supports mind, body, and planet. The tiny house movement is acting as a correction mechanism to the current increase in housing size that is wreaking havoc on so many levels. Whether or not the greater public adopts the tiny house living concept is yet to be determined, but one thing is certain; the movement, is at a minimum, bringing a much needed perspective into the dialogue of housing. Already shifts are happening on a large scale as more and more people begin to see that the American Dream has turned into a nightmare. The opportunity for transformation in how we live is tremendous and exciting and the numbers of people making the choice to break out of the rat race increases daily.