Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tiny House Thoughts

I've been living in the tiny house for about two months now, and I'm starting to observe changes its made in both my outlook towards the world as well as how I'm perceived by others. One thing I realized: I'm now an eccentric. Even though nothing changed about me, I have been at a few parties recently where people REALLY want to talk about the tiny house unsolicited, and try to understand how I live in 120 sq ft (i mean, i don't fully yet.) It's fun, and always in good faith, but nonetheless leaves me feeling like I just stepped into this other category in people's eyes: someone who makes extreme life choices. And I'm totally okay with it, proud of it even, though I realize that I might be now introduced only as "This is Matt, and he lives in a tiny house." I shouldn't be complaining, It's actually really exciting to now have an(other) eccentricity, instant conversation starter, girlfriend filter, added joke opportunity (tiny house jokes NEVER stop!,) and of course, place to be on my own.

In addition to this realization, I've also been try to reflect on the experience as a whole, because it is an education in itself. I've been reading the book "House" by Tracy Kiddier, which is a (sort of cheesy) chronicle of a couples experience having a home built, both documenting their relationship dynamics as well as the relationship among the architect and builder, and all of the complexities that go into making a house, both technically and socially. That's the most immediate takeaway: there is so much labor that goes into even the tiniest of houses. Every building I see now, even the crappiest Home Depot renovation reminds me of the amount of work and energy that went into putting it up. Taken further though, the tiny house makes me think about every object that fills it. I have had my hands on making the whole structure and furniture in the house, but the appliances, dishes, spoons, mattresses, linens, that I am buying all now have an added weight: who made them and where did this come from? Building a tiny house and then living in it makes you particularly sensitive to the culture of convenience.

I've also been trying to ask myself: Is the tiny house radical? The tiny house is about autonomy, both from the pressures of living in our current economic system via the sacrifices made for rent or a mortgage, and also about having the ability to have solitude while being in your own handbuilt space. The tiny house is also about having less stuff: only what is necessary and less space to heat and cool it, but also a different relationship to stuff, one that recognizes that things are just that, the acquisition of such should not determine the program of a building, rather people should.

But In many ways, the tiny house is ordinary. In most of the world, people live in such small amounts of space - it's really only in the global north and elites in the global south that such a need for extra space exists, if it should be called a 'need.' Our thresholds for square footage are certainly culturally conditioned. In another sense, tiny house living is just a smaller version of exactly what we do now: the materials are more or less similar, the creature comforts reliant on industrial processes (although having an off the grid tiny house is totally doable.)

Aside from wrestling with that question though, i've been trying to think of socially responsible applications of the tiny house. I think the tiny house form could lend itself particularly well to issues of agricultural worker housing. I started preliminary research on issues related to migrant farmworkers in California, and substandard housing is one of the biggest. What if workers were able to take their own housing with them or provide it, that was not full of toxic pressboard? Similarly, relief housing has much to be improved upon. When I was in Mississippi after Katrina i went into several FEMA trailers and could tell right away they were toxic, but more than that, they were sterile, and had no relationship to the outdoors. They were literally like an air conditioned chamber. I can see groovy organic farmers in Sonoma getting tiny houses made (actually we have already been contacted by one) which I think would be cool, but I'm more interested in expanding the tiny house, maybe not by size but by reach. Or maybe that's just a stupid idea?

Wow, I'm not usually so earnest in blog postings, but I suppose that's where I've been at recently. The kitchen is working! I'll have pictures soon. . .