Tiny homes seem like utopian living spaces -- where twee hipsters can lounge on handmade foldaway futons draped in quilts from Etsy, surrounded by four tiny walls of reclaimed wood.
Look on Instagram. Watch Tiny House Nation. Check out Pinterest. Stream a movie on Netflix. Hell, visit Thrillist. But after speaking to people who have spent time in tiny spaces -- everything from tiny homes, to RVs, to converted buses, to shipping containers -- the truth comes out. Sadly, these aren't the utopian living spaces that are going to save you from paying exorbitant rents or 30-year mortgages. There are plenty of unique problems that come with every kind of pint-sized living space, turning them from cute little dream homes into compact nightmares.
What tiny houses get right
There are plenty of great reasons to buy a tiny house, RV, or a shipping container that can be turned into a home. I toured the one in the photo, and it seems fantastic. You'll get rid of all the shit you don't need (frankly, there's no room for it where you live, regardless). There's a smaller environmental footprint. You'll spend less money on rent or a mortgage. You can theoretically drop the home wherever and live anywhere you choose.
As Jordan, a guy who lives in California in a converted bus, told me, you learn "deliberateness." That's a fine bastardization of a famous Thoreau quote, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Jordan says he and his wife cut out vegging. He sold all his video game consoles, bravely discovering whether life without Assassin's Creed Syndicate is even a life worth living. They're living a decidedly simpler life, but they're still part of the modern, not-tiny world.
Living in a tiny space sounds like a one-way ticket to Walden Pond. But there's plenty to consider about living tiny that the promise of a deliberate lifestyle and a beautiful Instagram photo cannot convey. Mainly, that living in cramped quarters and composting your poop can suck.
You don't just plop the damn thing down
The obvious thing to do would be to find a place to build your tiny home, and then build it. Easy! But zoning laws often make that difficult, depending on where you live. Many of the same laws made to combat people living in their cars essentially outlaw tiny living. Personally, I think the car could be the next frontier of tiny living -- imagine how superior people would feel when telling those tiny house losers that they live in the backseat of a Prius. "Sure, 10sqft is all I need for me, my dog, my wife, my three kids, and our parakeet," they'd say, ignoring the fact that they're basically bragging about being homeless.
Also, even if you buy land, it may still be illegal to put a structure like a tiny home on it. And that's land you actually own!
If you're in an RV -- a tiny house on wheels, essentially -- things don't get any easier. Lauren from Colorado moved into an RV with her boyfriend at the time because she wanted "a new back yard everyday." She has the ability to work remotely, and instead of finding a new place to rent in every city she went to, she just thought they'd pull up the RV and be set. The reality was much different.
"You'd always have to find hookups and spots to park," she says. "All of the RV parks are taken by people actually living in trailers. You're only allowed to stay in state and national parks for two weeks, and then you can't come back for another 21 days."
Why didn't they use the Walmart parking lot as their backyard every day? You really have to be causing trouble to get kicked out of one of those. But I guess being in nature is more alluring than being feet away from the Everyday Low Prices of Kevin James' latest DVD release.
Say goodbye to a real kitchen and a washer/dryer
Sure, plenty of tiny houses have indoor plumbing, but cramming in absolutely everything you're used to having in a house or an apartment is extremely unlikely. Some tiny homes have compost toilets. You know how sometimes you fight with your roommate about whose turn it is to take out the trash? Ok, now imagine fighting about whose turn it is to empty the compost toilet.
Justin, who lives in a tiny house in Portland, OR (of course), talks frankly about what he has to do without. "I really miss having a washer/dryer. That kills me," he says. And since he and his girlfriend cook all the time, not having a dishwasher or a ton of counter space is a real problem. "I see tiny houses with mini-fridges and a two-burner stove top with no oven. And I think, 'what the hell do you cook?'"
My guess is no one cooks because they're afraid that if they eat that they'll have to use the compost toilet.
All the garbage you'll never see coming
Everyone I spoke to had a different story about the problems they never expected to encounter, many of which were costly. Jordan's converted bus cost him $4,000 to get fixed up and driven from where he picked it up to where he lived. That's a lot of cash. If something in my apartment cost $4,000 to fix, I'd move all my stuff out in the middle of the night and couch-surf the rest of my life. And even after Jordan shelled out all that money, he still couldn't find a place to park the damn thing. Luckily a stranger was kind enough to let he and his wife squat on their land, and as of this point that stranger has not turned out to be a serial killer.
The windshield of Lauren's RV broke. It also needed new tires, which cost $5,000. Relationships are hard enough without adding a wrinkle like demanding the other person give you $2,500 for new tires. I feel weird splitting the check with my girlfriend at dinner. You might not be surprised to learn that things like this could put tremendous strain on a relationship. Even worse, she had to go online using a hotspot, which meant she couldn't watch Orange Is the New Black in a high-res format! How can you even tell that her eyes are crazy if you're watching it in low-res?! Life in a tiny world is the worst
And then there are issues that have nothing to do with money, but are annoying nonetheless. Even if you're living in a super tiny space with someone you love, it can be tough. "That's definitely a challenge," Justin says. "We're independent people, we like our space. And we don't have that. There's no room."
Lauren is keen to point out the differences between what social media made her think the tiny life was going to be like, and the reality. "I thought [living in an RV] would be a perfect Instagram scenario -- I'd be naked, wrapped in an American flag with my hair blowing in the wind, with people taking my photo saying, 'You're so young, wild, and free,'" she says. "But the reality was me sweating my ass off in a bathing suit because you can't turn the air conditioner on. Instead, you have to use the generator to vacuum up the 600 moths infesting the place."
It's weird, there are a lot more people on Instagram tagging photos with #tinyhouse than #THEMOTHSAREEVERYWHERENOOOOOOOOO.
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