In one of the great ironies of 21st century life, the tiny house movement is getting bigger. Spurred on by TV shows like “Tiny House Hunters,” a growing number of home-owners are deciding that less is more. To qualify as “tiny,” a house has to be smaller than 1,000 square feet. For the hard-core adherents of the lifestyle — the tiny house vegans, I suppose — the dwelling should really be 500 square feet or under. I’m told the record is 80, though the owner is said to be thinking of adding on a sun room.
The philosophy behind the tiny house phenomenon goes something like this: big houses are expensive and cost a lot to maintain. They encourage their owners to fill them with furniture and clutter — resulting in materialism, out-of-control debt and far too many accent pillows. Besides, say these tiny activists, big homes take up land that could be better used for compost heaps and free-range chickens. Even worse, people who own large houses are expected to invite friends over for the Super Bowl, and those guests often eat up all your high-dollar spinach dip.
The movement dates back to Henry David Thoreau, who wrote “Walden” in 1854 about his time spent living in a small cabin in the woods. His mantra was “Simplify! Simplify!” So he just sat around in nature and dug bean rows. Of course, he doesn’t talk much about the fact that his mother’s house was just down the road, and Henry often dropped by to give her his laundry, eat chocolate chip cookies and play “Cards against Humanity” with Ralph Waldo Emerson. He later rented out Walden Pond as a bed and breakfast, charging tourists extra for fresh bean dip.
More recent inspiration for the tiny house movement comes from such pop culture icons as “The Smurfs,” “Fraggle Rock” and Danny DeVito, who recently decided that his 15,000-square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills was a tad “roomy.”
Granted, tiny living has its drawbacks. Zoning laws often require homes in an area to be a certain minimum size, and in some neighborhoods there is a hefty fine for building a tiny structure within 500 feet of a Barbie Dream House. Inside it’s worse: bedrooms sometimes double as bathrooms, with a hide-a-toilet under the bed. Entertaining space is limited, and you can forget a walk-in closet. You’re lucky if you have a walk-in kitchen.
On the positive side, there are several magazines dedicated to tiny house ownership. Each publication is full of ideas about decorating, upkeep, storage and finger-painting the front porch. All this information in a nice glossy pamphlet that fits on your Little Tikes coffee table.
As it turns out, many Harding students are testing the waters of this new lifestyle. They’ve moved out of the dorms and are trying the accommodations of an 8-square-foot hammock. Much quieter than the dorm hallways, the hammock offers snug living space for sleeping, studying and cooking Ramen noodles. Most modern hammocks have a privacy zipper, and residents can virtually disappear into their own little cocoon. Last year I saw a freshman snuggle into his hammock. Three weeks later, he stepped out a junior by hours.
Of course, there is bound to be a backlash. Not only are hammock dwellers easy targets for Frisbees, but one near-sighted woodpecker can upset the whole operation. And the lifestyle isn’t for everyone. I heard about one sophomore who abandoned her hammock after only one night, upset that it couldn’t support the weight of marble countertops. Her hammock realtor said that she’d have to settle on Formica. She said she’d rather die.
You think I’m kidding about the hammock realtor. But this is no laughing matter. Front-lawn acreage is prime real estate, and competition for choice spots is fierce. In fact, some tree-space is at such a premium, that money isn’t enough. I heard one location is only letting in legacy applicants. If your parents didn’t hammock there in the ’80s, you might as well forget it.
Hammocks. Tiny houses. Oreo Minis. The whole world is shrinking. I guess since I can’t beat it, I might as well join the trend. I’ve got my eye on a 300-square-foot condo next door to the Keebler Elves. As spring approaches, it will be nice to sell the lawnmower and just take care of the yard with a pair of fingernail clippers. And next winter, one strand of Christmas lights should cover the whole estate. It’s a small world after all.