Why I’m Thinking All The Time About Tiny Houses

The Gifford from Four Lights Houses
The Gifford from Four Lights Houses

Every few years or so I adopt a new obsession, embarrassingly, around some kind of thing I’ve come to believe will change my life in all kinds of positive ways.  I say embarrassingly, because usually the obsession revolves around some material thing.  Let me give you a quick run down of the last decade, for example: musical equipment (recording gear, drums–can’t make or teach music without this stuff), a high end stereo system (because life is too short for shitty-sounding playback), the smart car, an Airstream travel trailer, folding bicycles (Dahon or Brompton), cargo bicycles (box or longtail), and finally, my most recent obsession–the tiny house.

Time and money being limited the way they are, only a few of these obsessions have resulted in some kind of acquisition in the material world.  A modest home recording studio is up and running; the stereo is sweet; the Airstream was indeed purchased (and then sold two years later); and the Dahon, the less expensive of the two folding bike options, is in the garage and ready for riding.  The smart car was a bad idea.  The jury is out on the cargo bike.  But the tiny house beckons.  What’s up with that? Why am I thinking all the time about tiny houses? Oh, let me count the ways.

Tiny houses appeal to my sense of aesthetics.  They are marvels of design and almost without exception extraordinarily beautiful.  Typically, they use the finest materials and/or workmanship to create a living or working space that is perhaps more expensive per square foot to build, but because of their tininess, sometimes as tiny as 100 square feet, they are relatively cheap.  An exquisite attention is often spent on every detail, whereas, in a large modern home, a house is framed and slapped over with sheet rock and cheap-ass vinyl windows and fake wood floors and there’s tons of wasted space. Go to Portland Alternative Dwellings, Four Lights Houses, Tumbleweed House Company, or Zyl Vardos, and see, if you couldn’t see yourself living in such a space, that you don’t at the very least go crazzy gaga over the design aesthetics.

Tiny houses appeal to my desire to simplify my life. The lessons taught by Henry David Thoreau in Walden are fundamentally applicable in the here and now.  I am decidedly not a hoarder, but for me, I find myself surrounded by shit I don’t need.  Where did this stuff come from?  Why is it here? How much money did I spend acquiring it?  How much space is needed to store it? How much time does it take to maintain all of this space, to keep it clean, to keep it in working order?  Economically speaking, how much does it cost to heat and send water and electricity through all these thousands of square feet? And could a person not be “happy” with less?

Tiny houses are green and sustainable, which appeals to that part of me that would like a planet for my child’s children to live on.

But I will never live in a tiny house.  They are completely impractical.  Where would I put my wife and my child?  Where does the dog go?  What about my books, records, and cds and the rest of the stuff I don’t need but can’t live without?  What about the baby grand piano and the drum set and the recording gear? I can’t put a recording studio in 120 square feet and still have a place to hang my hat.  And the tiny house, and all or most of the above reasons for acquiring one, represents for me this nagging contradiction that often exists in work, in parenting, in relationship, in the way we live, between what we believe is right and what we continue to do.  It’s terribly disconcerting.  So, why don’t I just dismiss outright all thoughts of a tiny house?

For all of the reasons listed above, perhaps, and for the persistence of other thoughts about how acquiring a tiny house might be a good deal even if I didn’t live in it.  Writing retreat?  Vacation home on a little piece of property in the woods?  A guest house in the back 40?  I could be the suburban proprietor of a tiny house hotel like the one in North Portland!  The possibilities are endless–and so are the depths and lengths of my obsessive brain.

Published by michaeljarmer

I'm a public high school English teacher, fiction writer, poet, and musician in Portland, Oregon

7 thoughts on “Why I’m Thinking All The Time About Tiny Houses

  1. I love miniatures. Not cute ones, but careful tiny microcosms. Maybe that is the reason I, too, haunt tiny house sites (oh, tumbleweed, love it). I think what it would be to find a spot where my daughter who is nearly homeless in San Francisco could set such a tiny wonder. Thanks.

    1. I’ve had similar thoughts about people I know and love who can’t make their way in the modern housing market–which has become so obscene. Mostly, my thoughts are selfish regarding these, but not always. If you had some land–a little commune? A writer’s colony? !!

  2. You’re making me want to blog, Jarmer! I had a tiny house period of my own some years back, sparked by train travel through the north central Midwest, where a rail passenger can get some pretty up-close, in motion views of all kinds of small, abandoned buildings. Some from the railroads’ past, some the pasts of farms. I fell in love with these cast-offs in their varying degrees of dilapidation. Took me awhile to realize every one of them , for me, harkened back to the long-empty chicken house of my suburban childhood. Before suburbs were invented, there were houses and fields. That’s what we had. Behind our house was “the chicken house,” a play house by the time my brother and I came along. The light slanted in from the south on that old wood floor. It became a childhood world in there. Kids ruled. Secrets were told. A few sins were committed in ways that seem comical to me now. (The boys’ purloined copies of Playboy hidden in a Lay’s potato chip box.) You could become a different person in the chicken house than you were in, say, the yard where adults could find you just by looking. In the chicken house the rules changed, the stories grew, dominion shifted. Who would ever want to give up that? If you could find a way back to such a world, wouldn’t you go? Through a rickety door, or a broken open window?

  3. I LOVE tiny houses! I love the idea of stripping down to basic beauty and having only the essentials — but how to figure out the essentials when they are crowded by so much stuff. “The shit I don’t need (but sometimes love).” Therein lies the rub . . .

    Like Carlen, even though we didn’t have chicken houses when I was a kid in Florida, I used to make forts out of palm fronds and put a stash of books in them. It was my little home just for reading and being left alone (or waging war if the situation called for it). My grandson, when he was around 2 loved finding nooks in boulders out west and called each one, “A home of my own.” I think there is something to that notion that tiny houses evoke a kind of harking back to childhood, a longing. Just one more look at the old wood house with holes in the floor that was finally razed. It was the last house my parents were happy in. Just one more whiff of the way my grandmother’s trailer smelled after she’d just watered all the orchids she had growing inside and on her porch. Just one more look at her face.

    A rickety door, an open window, a garden gate, the salt smell of ocean air. . .

    Thanks for making me think of those things, Michael.

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