For years, I was skeptical of tiny homes (400 sq. ft. or less). I thought they were unrealistic (who was actually thriving in that small of a space?) and extreme (why don’t those people just live in small apartments?). Tiny house dwellers are typically on the alternative end of the lifestyle spectrum and despite my “stick it to the man” attitude, I am often afraid to stick out too much.
Then I started getting interested in minimalism and began experiencing the freedom of downsizing, focusing on my deepest values, and simplifying my choices. Which inspired a move from skepticism to complete and utter fear of tiny homes. I was afraid that if I learned more about tiny homes that I would want one. I was afraid that I would get sucked in and become one of those people that builds a tiny home from scratch in their parent's backyard. What if a tiny home was the logical next step of my budding interest in minimalism?! So I avoided tiny homes like the plague (run away! run away!). Which became difficult when Alex started watching tiny home tours on YouTube every evening (traitor!)...
Alex had somehow inexplicably become obsessed with tiny homes right as I was most afraid of them. He started with the Living Big in a Tiny House series set in New Zealand (shout out to the eternally happy host, Bryce), and moved on from there. When Alex exhausted the tiny home tours, he moved to van dwellers and full-time RVers and people who live on boats. I held out as long as I could but eventually I gave in and started watching them myself.
But instead of succumbing to the siren song of extreme tiny homes, something funny happened. I learned that I definitely didn’t want to live in a tiny home. I don't care about moving my house from one place to another so I can't really see the difference between a tiny home and my 650 sq. ft. apartment. I dislike the cluttered feeling of some tiny houses, and like to have space to sew and store our board games. Also, because Alex and I chose “generosity” as a core value we want the flexibility of having more space to host group gatherings and have people stay for overnight visits.
I’m free! I escaped the lure of tiny homes! But in the process, I learned a couple things about myself…
1. The more I understand alternative lifestyles the less scary they seem and the more accessible they become.
It is so easy to dismiss lifestyles or life choices that are different from my own as “impossible,” “ridiculous,” or “extreme,” and think “I could never do that.” But it’s important for me to stay away from “I can’t” language and instead focus on “choice” language. I could absolutely live in a tiny house - but that’s not really the important question for me. The question I should ask instead is “does living in a tiny house fit my values”?
Exposure to these types of alternative lifestyles helps me understand them, which allows me to take them more seriously. It helps me not to dismiss them out of hand, just because they are outside my personal life experience. For example, when I started researching bike commuting in DC, the first article I came across described two people in their 50s who biked over 15 miles a day. So as I started commuting I compared myself to those riders, instead of an arbitrary lower limit I set for myself. Regular long distance bike commuting was normal to them and it became normal for me. The same with financial independence - after reading enough about people who had already reached financial independence, we had the audacity to think that we could too.
2. I don’t know where my limits are until I move beyond the boundaries of my current comfort zone.
I firmly believe that pushing my limits helps me grow and develop. Yet, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m continually surprised to discover where my limits actually are. Like the time I gave away my favorite books and didn’t even care. Or when I stopped getting Netflix (still going strong by the way). Or when I tricked myself into becoming relatively athletic. Apparently, I am the last person to be trusted when it comes to delineating my own limits. Instead, I am the first person to say “oh, I could never do ___” and then later find out I actually can.
My ideas are a rubber band that needs to be stretched in order to find my true shape. So while watching tiny home tours I try to picture my own life in that house/van/boat/RV. Imagining a more extreme lifestyle for myself helps me decide where my actual limits lie. For example - I think I would really enjoy a loft bed and could totally handle a composting toilet in a tiny home, but I really want an actual couch and a hot shower every day!
3. It is extremely helpful to see other people model thoughtful decision making about their lives.
My favorite thing about tiny house tours is not the tiny house, but the small bits of information that the owners drop about why they decided to live in a tiny house. It’s hard to describe your tiny home without explaining the thought process behind a desire to downsize so dramatically. And in our society there are so few opportunities to hear people thoughtfully talk through their decision making process about their current lifestyle. Much of the lifestyle choices I see around me are “assumed.” The lifestyles I see modeled to me are a product of my upbringing and my geographical location and cultural context, and may or may not resonate with my personal values. And as a Christian, my “normal” shouldn’t be set by the society around me. Watching others walk through their thought process about alternative living helps me to find the words and questions to talk to myself about the lifestyle that works for me. It helps broaden my understanding of what is possible and provides a check to keep me from being swept along by the choices offered by mainstream society.
Why did you chose your lifestyle?
With these three lessons in mind, I will continue watching video tours of tiny homes and radical down-sizers and off-grid folks, perusing minimalist blogs, and reading about Christians who have stepped out of mainstream America in a dramatic way. I'm attracted to these sorts of “extreme” lives because, by definition, these folks have questioned their own lives, found something they no longer valued or no longer made sense, and they took the outrageously courageous steps to make a serious change. They eschewed the standard narratives of life and faith and worked to build a lifestyle defined by their own values. That is the kind of life that I strive for.
Would you live in a tiny home? What would be the best and worst thing about living in a tiny home? What alternative lifestyle choices inspire you? Let us know in the comments below!
p.s. Interested to follow the rabbit trail of tiny home YouTube videos for yourself? Our favorites are Living Big in a Tiny House and Extreme Alternatives (two van dwellers based in Canada). Our favorite video of all time is this family - they built a castle van that is an engineering marvel!
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