What global nomads and the tiny house movement have in common

There’s been a minor revolution brewing lately. Not a big one, but a tiny one. But as tiny as might seem, it just might turn half the world upside down.

For many years…centuries, even…Americans have been told that bigger is better; that a massive almost-mansion is our entitled birthright, and prosperity is our deserved fate. That we can have everything we want, and need not worry about frivolous nonsense, like responsibility. Even the American Dream, to which all Americans must supposedly aspire, is purely one of materialism:

Fight Club quote we buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like
Fight Club was about thinking, not fighting.

In the last few decades, we’ve seen American homes expand. Not in the number of residents, but in sheer size. Even with fewer and fewer people living in them, our homes have grown, adding extra bedrooms, larger kitchens, loftier ceilings, spare bathrooms, guest space, state-of-the-art appliances, and the inexplicable superfluous living room. I hate the superfluous living room.

American home size 1973-2011

But we’re Americans, after all. We deserve our dream home.

Too bad we couldn’t afford it.

American houses sold by year, 1963-2009
Ouch. (source)

How the mighty have fallen.

The housing collapse was no isolated incident, nor was it entirely the fault of eager homeowners; Americans are deeply in debt, with stagnating wages, chronic unemployment, and dreary long-term prospects. We might find our way out of this, but it’s not going to be easy…and no amount of optimism is going to change the fact that we’re probably going to be stuck this way for a long, long time.

And that’s why some people are trying something radically different. Instead of pursuing the grandiose, they seek out the minuscule, abandoning the Bigger is Better approach with all the gusto of humble practicality.

Behold, the Tiny House, in all its itsy-bitsy glory:

Tiny house exterior
Photo by Tammy.

It’s kind of a big deal. Metaphorically, anyway.

The bedroom is usually tucked away on a 2nd-level sleeping loft, making the main floor surprisingly spacious:

Tiny house interior
Photo also by Tammy.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Most people take one look at a tiny house and say “I could never do that.” They talk about all the wonderful things they’d miss, and the dinner parties they could never have; the kids that would have nowhere to play, and the adults who would have nowhere to hide. They might admire the resolve and discipline it takes to build and live in one, but couldn’t imagine taking even one step.

But if you start listening to tiny house lovers, it starts to make a whole lot of sense.

For them, it’s not a compromise. Big houses are. They’re massively expensive to buy and maintain, with cavernously empty, unused space that needs to be heated, cooled, lit, furnished, and vacuumed. And for most reasonably-sized families, what’s the point? Bills pile up every month, whether you enjoyed that spare kitchen or not.

A tiny house, on the other hand, might cost about $50,000, making it 90% cheaper than the average American home. It’s even less if you build it yourself, for which their are innumerable instructional videos and diagrams to assist in doing just that.

You could easily save half a million dollars in mortgage costs and interest payments. That’s money that could be better spent on medical care, education, kids, travel…mmm, travel…and whatever else you might need, or enjoy.

Are all the empty rooms of a spacious house really going to enrich your life enough to be worth trading all that away? Probably not. For a lot of people, it makes a lot more sense to take that dream trip to Paris than to have an outdoor pool.

And that’s really the whole point. When tiny house fans see a 5-bedroom home, they imagine all the vacations they’d have to cancel to pay the mortgage; the savings that would evaporate to fill unused rooms with superfluous furniture; the doctor visits they’d skip to maintain a 3-car garage; the stability they’d undermine, building a house of cards.

When people see a tiny house, they think about everything they’d have to give up; but when minimalists see a McMansion, they think exactly the same thing.

So, what does all this have to do with infinite wandering?


Hobos with a bindle
He’s my hero.

For many of the same reasons that have motivated certain people to choose a tiny home, others have chosen none at all. For the nomads, any home is a burden. But if you can fit your whole life into a backpack, home becomes the whole world.

Travel means a lot of things to a lot of people, and for some, it’s to seek the sort of enrichment that can’t be found in the comforts of home, no matter how many bedrooms it might have. For others, it’s because they’ve abandoned their possessions to collect memories instead. Others find themselves enjoying the simplicity itself.

Between the tiny housers and the nomads, you hear a lot of the same stories about what they’ve left behind; dead-end jobs, crushing bills, rush hour commutes, and a life fading away, without much worth remembering.

Tiny living, whether it’s in a home, an apartment, or a backpack, isn’t really about having less; it’s about living more.

Sometimes it takes a disaster for us to realize we’ve got a problem, and the housing collapse hit particularly close to home. Literally. Americans will have to deal with a whole lot of reflecting in the next few decades…but when I see entire movements dedicated to getting priorities in order, I start worrying a bit less.

Plus, I kinda want one.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

View all posts by SnarkyNomad