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Contact me at Mom25dogs@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tiny House Movement?

I am not a fan of the tiny house movement. Once you've had to live in a small space, you really value living space. Our first house was built on the family farm. I drew the plans and my Dad taught the sons-in-law how to build it. We had little money and we lived in it as we built it and paid for it as we went. It took 3 years to finish 900 sq ft. Over the next 16 years we added on to more than double it's size to 2,300 sq ft. When it was finally finished we lived in it a year before deciding to move. We went to a 2,500 sq ft house then to our current 3,000 sq ft house. Last year, we tried to downsize into a 1,600 sq ft luxury apartment. But within a month, we knew we'd made a mistake and thank God our house hadn't sold. We moved back home.

Now I fully realize that some people don't have a choice. Due to finances, availability, you may not have a choice but to live in a small environment. I also realize that some people seem to prefer a compact environment or they wouldn't chose to live in boats, campers, cabins, etc. For the life of me, I don't understand the ones who really choose this way of life despite having other options. I know they are out there, I accept their choices, I just don't understand them.

Back in the old days, families often lived in very cramped quarters. Let's say you were a frontiersman and you brought you wife and little child to the wilderness to live where the nearest neighbor was 10 miles of walking distance. A man, by himself, could only cut down so many trees, drag them and stack them to build a log cabin. His wife would help but that would be your only help besides, hopefully, the horse, mule or ox you had brought with you. You have to get shelter up before winter sets in so your time is limited. You also need to clear land, plant crops, harvest and process the crops so you don't starve. Your available time and energy is split between building shelter and providing food for the winter as well as cutting wood for the fire for the winter. As you can see, a man would be hard put to get a reliable shelter built quick enough. So, it was going to have to be small. Maybe when you had sons big enough to help, you can build a bigger cabin but that's going to be some years in the future.

Some of those log cabins lasted a long time and were used as other structures or as homes for other people in the family. During the Great Depression, many were put back to use as shacks for homeless people.

During the homesteading years, thousands of families moved into the interior of the United States with the promise of free land if they lived and worked the land for so many years. They faced the same problems the early frontiersmen faced. Getting a shelter built and getting food and wood in before winter came. But those plains didn't have a lot of wood or rock, so how do you build a house out there? Sod houses. Soddy's were made of thickly rooted prairie grass. Prairie grass had a much thicker, tougher root structure. "Construction of a sod house involved cutting patches of sod in rectangles, often 2'×1'×6" (60×30×15 cm) and piling them into walls. Builders employed a variety of roofing methods. Sod houses accommodate normal doors and windows. The resulting structure was a well-insulated but damp dwelling that was very inexpensive. Sod houses required frequent maintenance and were vulnerable to rain damage. Stucco or wood panels often protected the outer walls. Canvas or plaster often lined the interior walls." - Wikipedia

Poor sharecropping farmers had to spend their time on farming to pay the rent or be tossed out. So they didn't have large homes either.

Then there were mountain cabins where people were so isolated that they were self sufficient. There was no running to Lowes or Home Depot for supplies. They had to forge their own nails, cut down their own logs with hatchet and crosscut saws. They had to use rocks to set the house on because there were no concrete blocks and cement trucks.

During the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years (drought), many lost their farms and were homeless. They lived wherever they could camp out. Shanty towns (aka Hoovervilles) sprang up in urban areas where homeless people put together whatever they could find for shelter. Migrant workers would make camps beside the fields they were hired to harvest. Hobo camps along railroad lines were for those men who traveled the rails.

Hobo camps

Shanty towns

Migrant workers

There were the city tenements. Small apartments where the poor lived. Crowded and cramped they lived and worked in their one room apartments.

When cotton mills sprang up in the South, they built workers homes in what is known as a mill village. These homes were new, with wood floors, real windows and doors and right next door to the mill so it was convenient. These communities were nirvana to those who came down from mountain cabins and farm log homes with their dirt floors and windowless, cramped spaces. Mills were able to entice families to move. But, the homes were not large. Much better than from what they came from but not large. No indoor plumbing, no indoor bathrooms, no electricity. That would come later. They had the house, the coal shed and the outhouse. Some of the home were duplexes with 2 rooms on one side and 2 rooms on the other side. Those were usually for single or newly married couples. The homes for families were usually 4 room homes and sometimes the family would rent out a room to make some extra income. Even renting the same room twice! The 1st shift worker had it for the night to sleep and the 3rd shift worker had it during the day to sleep. Later they would add an addition on the back to have an indoor bathroom. My husband's family had mother, father, and 6 children. They lived in a 4 room mill house and they always had other people staying with them like a grandmother, uncle, aunt. You paid the mill rent money by the room. So if you had a 2 room duplex, 4 room or 6 room house, you paid accordingly.

So, as America progressed and people had better income, they naturally wanted to improve their living and having a bigger house was a sign of better times.

Today, people are choosing a tiny house to simplify their lives. But, is it simplifying to try to cram all the things you need, enjoy and want into a tiny environment? To me, it would complicate matters to try to live in 200-300 sq ft.

Let's look at the reasons people give for going tiny.
  • Saving money, living debt free
  • Living greener or leaving a smaller footprint, environmentally friendly
  • Freedom from upkeep, maintenance of house and stuff
  • Portability
  • More time for other activities

Saving money and living debt free - Paying $40,000+ for a tiny house is a lot for what you get. Paying over $10,000 is a lot for what you get. Heck, paying $10 for a place you can't stand to live in is a lot. You couldn't give me some of these places if I had to actually live in them. Maybe use them as a garden shed but otherwise, no thank you. Anyway, people are paying premium prices for houses that very few people will be interested in buying if you ever decide to sell. I know from experience. We bought a 35' camper one time with 3 slide outs. We got it used for $10,000. We put in another $5,000 and sold it for $5,000. We took a bath. There are not that many people in the market for a used luxury camper. If you have a house and you want to sell it, you look at the market and price it accordingly. But with a portable tiny home, you are looking at a MUCH smaller market. In order to unload it, you will have to price it accordingly because there aren't that many people interested in a used tiny house.

Living greener - Purchasing a tiny house just because it's a fad is not really living greener. Human beings are human beings no matter what size shelter you live in. We are still going to have to poop, pee, take a bath, brush our teeth, wash our clothes, etc. That means you need the facilities to do this easily. A compost toilet isn't going to make you happy for long. You need water, sewer and electricity. And, we are spoiled to need a LOT of electricity for our lights, cooking, laptop, TV, washing machine, etc. So, for most of us, we are going to still be using the same amount of water to shower or bathe in, the same amount to brush our teeth in, the same amount to wash our clothes in, etc. Being uncomfortable in a cramped bathroom doesn't stop the need for that bathroom and the uses for that bathroom. Unless you want to go back to the 1800's, and use an outhouse, it's the same. (And those outhouses weren't necessarily environmentally friendly either.) And where do you put recycling bins? If you have no place for your trash can and recycling bins, it means you probably won't be recycling. I prefer recycling a house rather than building something new. Buy a home that's already built and just needs some work to update it. I mean, the houses are already here! Why build something new to be greener when you can recycle a house that's already been built. Look for an older home that gives you the room you want and need, put some money into it to update it and go green if you want with your new materials and changes. And the money they charge for these new "tiny homes" is ridiculous. Granted, our first home that we built, was back in the 1980's. But we got our first house finished for less than $25k and it was 950 sq ft. We added on to it in two more stages and had a total of $110k in it and it was 2,800 sq ft when we finished. My husband, father and brother-in-laws did most of the work and we were able to cut corners and be thrifty. If you aren't handy, then you have to pay for someone to do it for you and that's where you may have to go smaller so you can afford it. But being green is not the best reason to buy a tiny home. Recycling a home with green materials and energy saving systems is greener and you end up with something you can actually live in.

Freedom from upkeep, maintenance of house and stuff - Now this was why we tried downsizing last year. We thought it would be nice not to have to mow the lawn, replace leaking faucets, paint the outside, etc. But moving into the luxury loft apartment was still too much of a culture shock for us. We had to walk so far and go up and down an elevator to bring things in from the car or to go out to the pool or use the outdoor kitchen. We had to be so quiet so as not to bother the neighbors. That meant getting and using earphones for the TVs, talking in a low voice, worrying if the dogs started barking (it was very pet friendly), hearing an argument, etc. And the bedrooms and bathrooms were too tiny. I live in my bedroom. The kitchen and living room were open and huge with fantastic windows. But the bedrooms and bathrooms were tiny and claustrophobic. Yes, you can spend less time vacuuming and mopping in a smaller house. Less time in cleaning bathrooms if you go from 3 to 1. But to us, it came down to where we felt more comfortable and more ourselves and had more privacy. I've never had to live in an apartment with people right next door on either side of you. Some people are very comfortable with that and maybe have never lived any other way. Although you have less square footage to keep clean, that also means more dirt in a concentrated area. There is no porch or mudroom for taking off dirty shoes, hanging up your coat, etc. So the normal detritus that comes in with you from outside is concentrated on that small area. One woman said she ended up sweeping her floors all day long. The pet hair, the muddy shoes, the wet coat, etc. only has one small space to go. And where do you put your trash can? Your vacuum or broom, your mop, mop bucket, cleaning supplies, paper supplies?

Portability - When we had that camper we learned that moving it put stress on it. All that swaying as you go down the road, stressed seams. We always had to worry about leaks. Campers and RVs are suppose to be made for the road. So portable tiny houses are nothing new, they were just called campers and RVs. Our huge camper was nothing but a maintenance nightmare. From stopped up toilets (who knew that all toilet paper is not the same and camper toilet paper is the pits), to broken heat/air conditioners, to sliders that quit working, to having to replace appliances as they gave out, etc. Every single time we tried to use it for a vacation, my husband ended up having to spend half the time repairing or replacing something. Between gas, campground fees and constant repairs, we weren't saving money over hotel rooms. At least in hotel rooms, you don't have to cook, clean, wash linens, etc. We tried to store it and that was as expensive as taking it back and forth from home. I mean, it wasn't like we could use it the whole summer. We usually could use it 2 weeks of the summer. We had to borrow a truck to haul it or pay for a hauler. By the time you buy a truck that will haul it, you've spent a mint and you are stuck with a vehicle you only use occasionally as it's too expensive to drive. A truck that size drinks gas or diesel pretty heavily. (This also has to mean something to those of you who are thinking it's greener to have a portable tiny house. Don't forget the large truck you have to have to move your tiny house.)

More time for other activities - Well, as I said before, we spent most of our vacation time repairing, setting up and taking it down and securing it. Instead of sitting by a hotel swimming pool, I was making breakfast, washing the breakfast dishes by hand, sweeping out the camper, making the bed, washing the clothes and linens... hmmmmm, everything that I would do if I were AT HOME! Now, granted, if you do everything outside the house and only use the house to sleep in, maybe that works for you.

How safe are these tiny homes in extreme weather? If a tornado comes through, a hurricane?

I heard someone say that a very real problem with the tiny houses are the odors. You have a small enclosed space. Unless you can open the windows all the time you have to deal with odors. Cooking odors, bathroom odors, pet odors, trash odors. And they said the odors linger and get in your clothes. If you are cooking bacon, fish, or someone has used the bathroom, it can linger in fabric because it's got nowhere else to go.

There is another thing to keep in mind. Some people are able to live in a portable tiny house and keep everything neat and tidy. But a lot of people end up expanding. They don't just have the tiny house on wheels. They begin adding a deck, a covered porch, a shed, an outdoor shower, little fences, indoor/outdoor carpet and furniture. Have you ever been to a campground where they've made their camping area like a little Disney World. Sometimes it's very neat and tidy but then there are those who are lazy and their camper spot begins to look like a hoarders'. Either way, you are actually expanding your living space with all these additions. You may still sleep in your tiny house, but you've added a porch, etc. So you are no longer living as tiny as you though you would. We need storage for all those things we forget we need like outdoor furniture, grills, dog crates, coolers, etc.

If you aren't careful, before you know it, you have it looking like this.

Let's face it, we are spoiled to our amenities and, if there is no real reason for not having them, we still expect to enjoy them. There is a lot of difference between the tiny houses of necessity and the luxury tiny houses they are showing us on the Tiny House TV shows.

You will notice that all these tiny houses are luxuriously appointed with granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, refrigerators, etc. Very different from the pictures I showed you of the log cabins, and shanty towns! Those people had to live like that. Most of us don't. But these pictures of luxury tiny houses leave out one thing. The people actually living in them. Notice, there are no dirty dishes sitting by the sink, no books stacked by the bed, no rows of medicine bottles in the bathroom, no family pictures, no dog/cat food dishes, no dirty clothes hamper. I.e. they aren't lived in yet. I'm not a petite woman. Never have been. So I need space. It would be very difficult for me to adjust to living in tiny quarters for any length of time. I'm a neat and clean person but I have the luxury of closets to organize in and that keeps the clutter from accumulating visibly. If you don't have those closets, cabinets, drawers, storage rooms, what do you do?

Another problem to consider is insurance. It behooves us all to make sure we have adequate insurance on our cars, homes, contents. Can you get insurance on tiny homes, portable homes? Some of these tiny homes go for big bucks and you want to be sure you can get insurance so check into that before signing on the dotted line.

I have lived in smaller spaces so I know from experience that I prefer space. Be very sure you honestly take into consideration all the ramifications.

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