Downsizing in the 21st century: why tiny homes are hot

Photo by Emily Ostertag- Staff Writer
By Emily Ostertag – [email protected] – Staff Writer | March 4, 2015 |
She said she’s warmer than she’s ever been.
Equipped with an apple-crate-sized infrared heater and a content cat, Natalie Pollard
doesn’t need much else when snow-bound in rural Candler.
When living in a 265 square feet home, the only surroundings are necessities. Her small amount of possessions can all be seen from the 8-by-12 foot sleeping loft.
A record player and an old kitchen table from her grandfather’s family farm house make up a sizable portion of Pollard’s special belongings. One can only fit so much in a tiny home.
“Now I feel like I’m just in this perfect little nest with everything I love,” Pollard said. “You really limit down to the things that bring you joy, and if you can see them all and feel them all in one space, it just feels so good!”
Being a Virgo, Pollard said, explains her willful minimalist ways.
Thinking back on past dwellings, she said she realized her most fulfilling times were spent living in alternative spaces, such as studio apartments and trailers. So when a few friends elected her as the first client for their up-and-coming tiny home construction business, Nanostead, she didn’t hesitate to be their ‘guinea pig’ and promote their cause through her small shop, VILLAGERS.
Along with her astrological motivations, Pollard said she veered toward tiny house living as a means of escaping and avoiding financial stress.
“I have a four-year mortgage on my home, which is very realistic,” Pollard said. “I want less burden and less responsibility in general, I feel like. Yeah, I want to free up my life a little bit more for other things.”
Pollard said from speaking with others who have also decided to take up tiny house living, finances usually rank No. 1 on their list of reasons.
Many link the tiny house movement to Sarah Susanka and her book , “The Not So Big House,” published in the mid ‘90s. When looking back through American history and even ancient history, Teal Brown said, people have lived this way since the first enclosed dwellings.
To Brown, president and co-owner of Wishbone Tiny Homes building company and UNC Asheville alumnus, the word ‘trend’ doesn’t do credit to this time honored practice — A swinging pendulum serves as a more accurate analogy.
He describes it as a major historical shift. In 1950s America, the average house size was about 1,000 square feet (the size of a larger tiny home). While the size of American families has decreased by about half, the size of the average house has grown to about 2,600 square feet,
Brown said.
“I think in 2008 we saw that bubble bursting and now the pendulum is swinging back the other way,” Brown said. “Living in something as small as this may be an extreme swing of the pendulum, but somewhere in between, you know, a smaller home, I think is going to be what we
see going forward.”
The rental crunch and housing dilemma Asheville currently faces exists in cities all over the country, Brown said. As cities become denser and rent becomes unaffordable, residents have no choice but to relocate to the suburbs and country sides.
A presentation of data by the U.S. Census Bureau, “Who can afford to live in a home?”, shows from a 2006 survey 46 percent of renters nationwide pay 30 percent or more of their income on housing costs.
By state, North Carolina ranks in the third highest category of housing-cost burden along with Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Maine, Montana and others. According to the survey, Florida and California rank highest, with more than 50 percent of renters strapped with housing-cost burden.
College debt, housing debt, and the realization that wealth equals experience rather than accruing possessions have made tiny homes a growing way of life in cities like Asheville, Brown explained.
“Yes, the city is trying to find ways to densify the living situation in Asheville,” Brown said. “So, particularly in Asheville, more than most places in the country, I see it being a need.”
Tiny house living can also be seen as a philosophy, said Laura LaVoie, freelance writer and blogger. She mentioned Henry David Thoreau’s idea of “living deliberately” and the benefits of being in tune with one’s life and surroundings.
“The tiny house changed my life completely,” LaVoie said. “I will never live conventionally again.”
Before moving into her 120 square foot tiny home in Madison County, LaVoie worked nine hours a day, five days a week as a temporary staffing recruiter in Atlanta. After making her daily 45-minute commute home, she said, the only energy she had left went to watching TV before bed.
She said she lived this way in order to pay for her 2,700 square feet house, along with all the other things millions of Americans believe they need to be happy. But it wasn’t enough, or maybe it was just too much.
Aspects of her previous life, such as the desire for a dishwasher, seem silly now to LaVoie. The word “‘things” best describes them — most remain convinced of the convenience they offer — but in reality, isn’t it simpler to just wash the dishes by hand?
“In fact, you don’t even need to live in a tiny house to embrace it,” LaVoie said. “It’s about simplifying your life and living more deliberately. I think this is in line with values that already exist here in Asheville.”