The Small House Movement in a Nutshell
tall tales and tiny fictions
It makes sense that, as more information gets published about small houses, more misinformation is bound to surface too. Most of the stories out there are as harmless as they are entertaining. So far as I can tell, it’s not true that the typical tiny house can be built for less than the cost of a single tank of gas; nor is it, apparently, true that some of these places can be heated for a whole week by a single human fart.
1920's House on wheels.
One of the most widely-disseminated stories out there also happens to be one of the most misleading. It proclaims that the very first little home was mounted on a trailer in 2001, and that, in that moment, a housing revolution was born. The house, we are told, was named, “Tumbleweed”! While I might, otherwise, be happy to endorse such a widely-accepted portrayal of the house I built in 1999 (not 2001) as the sole genesis for a revolution, I should really set the record straight on this one, if only for the sake of due credit.
This short fiction readily dismisses the enormous contributions of all the tiny house pioneers who inspired me and my contemporaries. It’s unlikely that I would have ever built Tumbleweed if it hadn’t been for the hundreds of little houses on wheels I’d visited and seen in inspiring picture books, like Les Walker’s Tiny Houses, Jane Lidz’s Rolling Homes and Lloyd Kahn’s Shelter. Essays on the subject of vernacular design and housing rights, like those of Henry Thoreau, Stuart Brand and Witold Rybczynski directly inspired the little manifesto I wrote to accompany my house.
Credit where credit is due
My wee home and the equally diminutive essay denouncing America’s prohibitions on small-scale housing are just part of the catalyst that brought some much-needed attention to some big problems with U.S. housing at the turn of the century. Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House book of 1998 also played more than a small role in raising awareness at that pivotal time, as did the example of folks like Greg Johnson and Dee Williams.
While credit for this, so called, revolution can’t be assigned to just one person or house, there is one influence that seems to have held particular sway. The prohibition on small houses, itself, has probably done more to shape this movement and the houses most associated with it than anything else. Loopholes in our antiquated laws that allow many of us to live as simply as we please only if we build our homes on wheels or as very small “sheds” or outside the laws entirely are what drove many of us to pursue such alternative means in the first place.
The seeds of a tiny revolution
A Gyspy Wagon (origin unknown).
There’s no fruit without seed, and visa-versa. I think the broad interest in little houses is very rooted in our inherent drive toward efficient design and deliberate living (with some misdirected excursions into conspicuous consumption along the way). It’s found in pre-code, pre-resale-value-over-use-