MomZette

Honey, I Shrunk the House

'Tiny' trumps big as a family lifestyle choice

With an unstable economy and an increasing feeling of disconnection within their families, many Americans are taking a giant leap — by going tiny. They’re embracing “small” living arrangements in a big way.

“Life feels like a hamster wheel many times,” said one dad in Washington State. “I’m so tired from work, I don’t have the energy I’d like to interact with my two girls. And why am I working so hard? To pay for a big house.”

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Tiny beds. Tiny sinks. Tiny rooms. A tiny mortgage, too — all of this is becoming more common.

“In the wake of the United States’ housing crisis and the overall global recession, the single-family home — once the celebratory site of domestic accomplishment — has become not a symbol of pride and freedom, but a prison of economic uncertainty,” Mimi Zeiger wrote in her book “Micro Green: Tiny Houses in Nature.”

Those words are reflected in the skyrocketing popularity of tiny houses, as people shed expensive homes for tiny domiciles, where almost every object has multiple uses. There are TV shows, podcasts, blogs, and websites dedicated to tiny home living — even an association to help a tiny home dweller arrange everything from water lines to electricity to design.

A tiny house can run anywhere from $15,000 to $80,000 and up, depending on a few factors: materials, labor, and “extras” like a bathroom, a top-of-the-line stove, a front porch or a deck. A tiny house can be small enough to fit on the flatbed of a truck, or as big as 400 square feet. Some tiny houses are moveable, while some aren’t — and zoning issues for tiny homes apply state by state.

Sites like TinyHouseBuild.com will help families build their own tiny homes from the ground up.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”The Skinny on Living Small” source=”http://www.money.usnews.com”]Outdoor space is critical. Porches, decks, and room to roam outdoors are all key.|Think of utilities in advance. RV campgrounds may provide electricity, running water, and sewage disposal.|Consider larger goals. If your motivation is strictly to save money, buying or renting an existing house or apartment may be cheaper.[/lz_bulleted_list]

“I definitely see the allure, though I am not ready to go that small,” the Washington State dad, who is divorced, said. “But I have thought that maybe instead [of a big house], my two girls would just enjoy me — and be more relaxed in an apartment or condo.”

Quality of life is an overarching theme of the tiny house life. As families search for ways to build strong and lasting bonds with one another, the lessons of tiny house living — if not the lifestyle itself — are worth pondering.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, two good friends, have four million regular visitors to their site TheMinimalists.com. They’ve written four books, including the bestselling memoir, “Everything That Remains.” Their new film, “Minimalism,” is currently the #1 documentary of 2016.

“We’ve been sold a meme of this so-called American Dream: the six-figure salaries, the luxury cars, the closets full of expensive clothes, the large homes with more toilets than people — all the material possessions to fill every corner of our consumer-driven lifestyle,” Millburn told LifeZette.

“But of course these things aren’t leading to a greater sense of happiness or purpose in our lives,” he continued. “The opposite is often true: The more we consume, once our basic needs are met, the greater the void.”

While people who long to be free have always embraced simple living, many other middle-of-the-road Americans are also thinking twice about how much they need and why they are working so hard to fill big houses with even more needless “stuff.” College graduates saddled with debt but craving independence also find the tiny house a smart option.

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Families are seeing benefits to tiny house living, too. While there is a lot of bumping into one another, there is also an increased spirit of cooperation — and a focus on experiences as a family.

Ryan and Kim Kasl of Minnesota have two young children and transitioned several years ago from a 1,900-square-foot home to a 207-square-foot tiny house. They did so just as he was beginning a career in education administration and she began home-schooling their children.

“I love that as Ryan climbs the ladder in his career, we are not upgrading our home, cars, and ultimately, our debt,” Kim Kasl told Yes! Magazine. She added that they believed in “simplifying” their lives “while upgrading our experiences and adventures.”

Over in Oregon, Andrew and Gabriella Morrison, who have two teenagers, downsized six years ago. They live in a 200-square-foot house with an additional 110 square feet of sleeping lofts. A top motivation behind the couple’s decision was the desire to be a closer and more connected family, as Yes! reported. Since going tiny four years ago, Andrew Morrison said his family has grown much closer.

“Living tiny requires people in the home to communicate and not run away from difficulties,” Morrison told the magazine. “That’s not to say we don’t still have family clashes from time to time. It just means that when that happens, we have a framework to move through it.”

“People are building a space around their life — instead of attempting to cram a cookie-cutter life into an oversized box,” said Millburn.

Morrison also built cabins on their property that could accommodate visitors or serve as teen “chill” spots. “They are great private spaces for the kids if they want to get away. They can have some time to themselves, do schoolwork, have friends spend the night.”

Mid-lifers are also getting into the action, putting tiny houses on their property as living space for aging relatives or kids in their 20s returning home. Jay Shafer, founder of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, said mid-lifers often use a tiny home on the property as a home office or guest house for returning adult children, as The Huffington Post reported.

For seniors, retiring to a tiny house can lead to numerous economic benefits. The Integrating Transportation and Community Planning program (iTRaC) reports that 89 percent of tiny house owners have less credit card debt than the average American, while 65 percent have none at all. Tiny home owners have also banked about 55 percent more savings, CBS News reported.

And 40 percent of current tiny house owners are 50 and older, while 68 percent of tiny house owners have no mortgages, noted Senior Planet. Moving into a tiny house can allow seniors to substantially lower a mortgage or pay it off entirely.

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Seniors should choose a sensible plan that serves any limitations they may have. For any age, mass consumerism may leave a void — material goods cannot bring lasting happiness or peace of mind.

“Minimalism — the intentional removal of excess in favor of what’s important — is one solution to this problem of a void in our lives,” Millburn told LifeZette. “One part of that journey sometimes includes changing where we live — building a space around one’s life, instead of attempting to cram a cookie-cutter life into an oversized box.”