Does size matter? It does when it comes to the growing real-estate trend of “micro homes.”
In a consumption-based society where “more is more,” there’s a surprising movement gathering steam. An increasing number of Americans are downsizing their homes and moving into “tiny houses,” which range from 65 to 400 square feet, according to the blog Tiny House Talk.
The benefits of living in a tiny house are almost too many to count. Monthly bills start to look like chump change. The homes are cozy and easy to manage, not to mention better for the environment. And the size limitation forces tenants to unclutter their life — getting rid of unwanted stuff and embracing a sense of minimalism and purpose.
Naturally, we wanted to experience it for ourselves.
I recently recruited my mum to live in a tiny house in Plattsburgh, New York, which is available for rent on Airbnb, for three days. It cost just $US100 a night.
We survived. We didn’t once go at each other’s throats. But I don’t know that I could ever go back.
This is me and my mum, Vicki. We're close in that we talk on the phone every day, have held each other during more Nicholas Sparks movies than we care to admit, and share a hatred of messes. But we live about 250 miles apart. We recently tested the limits of our relationship by living in a tiny house for three days.
We booked a two-night stay at a tiny house in Plattsburgh, New York, on Airbnb. Mum was most concerned about the bathroom situation after I told her it might have a compost toilet -- essentially a covered bucket. 'I might be living in the car,' she said.
I was more concerned about privacy and personal space. Would we be stepping all over each other? Would it be like living with that college roommate who never leaves the dorm room?
Leaving behind her two-story Colonial house and my one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, we downsized to just 168 square feet of living space. Standing at 8 feet wide and 16 feet long, it couldn't be described as anything other than cute.
Here's a look inside the tiny house, from top to bottom. The combination of wood paneling and Target furniture give it a 'modern rustic' feel.
Les Delorimier owns the tiny house and lives with his wife on the property. A retired builder and mechanical engineer, he constructed the home from scratch five years ago. 'I wanted to see if it could be done,' he said.
With the help of a laborer, Les completed the cabin over the course of one frigid winter for under $US26,000. Everything was customised, from the octagonal windows to the log cabin siding.
He rents it out for $US100 per night. Most guests are couples either looking for cheap lodging on Lake Champlain or wanting to test out a tiny house before making the commitment to buy or build one.
The benefits of tiny house living are endless. The homes are cozy and easy to manage, not to mention better for the environment. The size limitation forces tenants to declutter their lives and keep only the necessities.
And monthly bills start to look like chump change. Les estimates that the cost of two people living in his tiny house year-round, including heat, hot water, cooking gas, and lights, would be just $US698. These propane tanks power the gas stove and heat the water.
Once we got settled on Day 1, I was surprised by how little my mum and I bumped into each other. While my mum curled up with her Nook on the futon, I sprawled out in the lofted bedroom and admired the view of the property.
The house's six windows helped to control the temperature, while bringing in tons of natural light. It felt like being in a tree house, rather than a shoebox.
A few hours later, however, our stuff spilled into disarray. We're over-packers, and the tiny house's sense of minimalism didn't necessarily accommodate our lifestyle. It made me uneasy to see our floor space disappear so quickly.
On the upside, in our quest to avoid clutter, we were forced to put every dish, towel, and clothing item back in its place after use. I stashed my camera and book inside the ottoman that doubled as a storage bin. This picture frame served as a cabinet door, keeping nonperishable food items and Tupperware containers tucked away.
Still, with so little room to move around in, we worried about becoming sedentary. It motivated us to take long walks together and lie out on the dock. We were suddenly swimming in time to catch up on life, like my relationship and her retirement forecast.
In other ways, the tiny house was not all it was chalked up to be. It's built on a flatbed truck (Delorimier, in fact, pays a biannual DMV registration fee and vehicle insurance on it rather than property taxes). Whenever someone walked around on the ground floor, the whole house teetered.
While many tiny houses use compost toilets, Les thought that might be a stretch for the average guest. This toilet was a small step up from a Porta-Potty, with a lever to open the drain and a button to flush in water. He empties it after every guest's stay.
And, real talk, when someone went No. 2, the house had to be evacuated. The bathroom's proximity to the kitchen was equally disturbing. The folding door did not, I repeat, did not seal odours well, and you had to wash your hands at the kitchen sink.
We knew there would be hardly any counter space to prep dinner on, so we prebaked homemade mac and cheese and brought it in microwavable containers. We took turns reheating as there wasn't room for more than one cook in the kitchen.
Between boiling pasta, chopping peppers, stirring cheese sauce, and washing all those dishes and utensils, I can't imagine duplicating the mac-and-cheese-making process in that crawl space of a kitchen. We relied on plastic and paper products for easier cleanup.
We didn't want the house to smell like dinner when we went to bed, so we ate at the picnic table. Almost every scenario presented a reason to get out of the tiny house, be it using the bathroom, eating, or ridding ourselves of stir craziness.
I can't imagine living here in the winter, when temperatures drop to -20 degrees. Even though the tiny house is insulated, you have to huddle around a portable space heater to keep from freezing.
At night, the full-size bed comfortably fit the two of us, but you could only sit up if you were centered in the roof's peak. My mum and I dealt with it, but I could see how things could get complicated with a significant other.
Day 2 was more of the same, with the addition of our first established boundary. When we made phone calls, the loft became a private telephone booth and the TV was turned on for white noise. Still, I enjoyed eavesdropping on my parents saying goodnight.
After three days, we were ready to return to our homes and embrace fact that we are, indeed, gluttons for space. She missed indoor plumbing; I missed having distinct spaces for specific functions: dining, sleeping, relaxing, storing, and, yes, going to the bathroom.
Still, I never had a dire, dire need for personal space; in fact, I felt grateful for the closeness that the tiny house gave us. Between its ability to expose our worst habits and its fortress-like lockdown on odours, I don't think I could have survived three days there with anyone but my mum.
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