There is a movement growing in North America that is challenging the status quo of how we live and what we really need to be happy. At its core, it stems from a few simple yet important questions: How much room do we really need in our houses? And just what does a 'home' mean to us?
The tiny house concept has taken many folks out of their traditional houses and apartments and into self-built homes that are usually no more than 250 square feet. The homes are efficient in size and cost, containing just about anything that’s needed for shelter and warmth. With a bedroom in the loft, foldable, condensable tables and hidden compartments galore, tiny houses make homeowners challenge themselves to live smart, innovative lives that save money and reduce environmental impacts.
Lydia Holden, a 23-year-old Saskatoon resident, lives in her 136 square-foot home that only cost her $30,000 to build.Lydia was inspired to build the home by her goal of leading the most eco-friendly lifestyle possible. Although seemingly simple in principle, to many it is something that is practically challenging. In 2013, she claimed to use about 20 litres of water a day - the equivalent of about three toilet flushes for most residential homes. The house is complete with a solar panel for electricity, a composting toilet and a small amount of propane for heat.
Although the environmental footprint of these house is applaudable, the financial aspect of these homes is equally astonishing. Since tiny homes are built on wheels in much the same way as a trailer, tiny home owners often live without mortgages or any other debts to pay off. Many tiny home owners also avoid property taxes since their houses are not permanent structures; they may even park their house in backyards, although the legality of such actions remains questionable.
The documentary Tiny: The Story of Living Small takes us through the daily routines of the people living in these tiny homes. It’s remarkable to see how happy they are in their homes, having decided to define themselves as part of a bigger picture. For instance, depicted in the documentary are stories of couples who have become stronger partners and community members, focusing more on the connections and relationships they hold rather than the material lifestyle promoted by society.
Indeed, the tiny house movement has reinvented the concept of home. As a child, I recall hearing the old saying: "home is where the heart is." If we think about how we interact with our planet and our communities, tiny homes provide a way to maximize those relationships. This ideal, so simple yet profound, makes us conscious of the materials we use (and don’t use), and how we can give ourselves time for the things that matter most.
Although I don’t live in a tiny house (yet), the concept makes me think about all of those materials I use on a regular basis and which items in my house simply sit on the shelf. Living small isn’t about being cramped in a claustrophobic space or not being able to have a lavish lifestyle; it’s about considering if we really need all those books on the shelf or if borrowing from the library will give us the same knowledge while sharing it with others. It’s about wondering if we really need heavy-duty tools when we can simply ask a friend or neighbour. The concept of community relies on sharing economies and redefining ownership. There is no need to have everything within arm’s reach and pay those premiums when we can share resources and knowledge amongst a group of friends, family, and others.
I encourage you to think about what you own and place that against what you could share. With careful thought and attention, you’ll soon see why people might choose to live in tiny homes. Owning less isn’t about giving up something - it’s about gaining so much more and enriching our relationships in community.