Small, Smaller, Smallest

As real estate prices rapidly-increase just about everywhere, but especially in our new chosen city, I find myself wondering if we will ever own again – and if we do, what will we need to sacrifice to do so? I’m obviously fine with going small – smaller even than our current apartment. I would find it a new and fun challenge, although I’m not sure our bedroom could be any smaller and actually fit our king size bed (my only bedroom requirement due to a 13 lb bed-hogging dog and an almost three-year-old who occasionally climbs in with us in the mornings).

We are not looking now or for a while, but our sights will eventually be set on a condo rather than a single family home or a townhouse. I had been hoping condos would be more affordable until I found out that they won’t be. Pricing is only going up, which makes me wonder if we’ll need to consider even smaller spaces. A one-bedroom condo with a generous dining room? Turn that dining room into a bedroom! But sacrificing a living room for a bedroom? Wouldn’t work. The living room is where we live together as a family and spend the great majority of our time when we’re at home. At a certain point, a space is just too small for the number of people living in it.

I can’t write on this topic without segueing into Tiny Houses, both because they’re so hot right now, and because they epitomize the far end of the downsizing spectrum. They really do call into question how small we can go before we simply don’t fit in a space.

My introduction to Tiny Houses was way back in my early years in Boston. I was dismayed about the price of rent (if I’d only known…) and the cost of real estate in that city. In fact, after a discouraging evening checking home prices, my roommate told me the next morning that I’d yelled in my sleep, “a million dollars? A million dollars!” I discovered Tiny Houses and I loved the idea – all except the problem of where to park one. At the time I was single and relatively young, so the only disadvantage would have been to my social life had I chosen to fit myself and the belongings I loved into a small home way out in the wilderness where zoning and land cost allowed.

But I was never going to move into a Tiny House. Even back then when it would have been much easier, there was something about them that just didn’t make sense to me. It probably didn’t help that those early models were extraordinarily simplistic and plain. The intense customization and coziness you see on just about any Tiny House YouTube tour or TV show may have been going on back then, but it wasn’t advertised on the webpage I’d been perusing. Materials were also very basic – no fancy tile work or beautifully-finished wood surfaces. And the floor plans were super small – it was rare to see one over 200 square feet; many were under 150 (plus a loft).

Fast forward to 2014 when I rediscovered Tiny Houses. It’s not that I’d forgotten they existed, but they’d been off my radar as something I was interested in. Then a fleet of new shows on some of my favorite home improvement and design stations (this was during a rare period of time when we had cable) featured Tiny Houses as not only something affordable, but also quirky, novel, beautiful, and endlessly customizable. New innovations in Tiny House living had expanded the possibilities – and square footage – in ways I hadn’t imagined early on. Suddenly, during a time when we were building our 1800+ square foot house (not on wheels!), I found myself questioning whether we should have been building something a fifth of the size that was portable and would give us financial freedom instead of a mortgage.

Of course, for two adults and a baby (Theo was somewhere around a year old during this time), something that small just didn’t seem practical. Not because we couldn’t have parted with all the things that wouldn’t have fit (although that would have been a massive undertaking), but because physically it just didn’t seem like the right amount of space for a growing kiddo. First steps would have been cut short by running into an opposite wall, there wouldn’t have been any space for a highchair (although I know people make it work), and I can’t think of any guests who would have enjoyed staying with us in what would be essentially one large open room with a baby who woke frequently through the night well into his second year.

It occurred to me that my problem wasn’t so much about reducing our stuff to fit – as most of the shows make a big deal over. It’s about having enough room for the people. The people who are going to coexist in this space. I enjoying being in my home. I enjoy carrying on conversations in my home with people who aren’t sitting three feet away from me. Do I think people who love Tiny Houses are crazy and wrong? Absolutely not. Not to mention, most of them love outdoor spaces more than I do, and often extend their square feet thusly.

To me, it comes down to a difference between making a housing choice based on having enough room to fit all your stuff (a reason to have a home with more rooms that individuals living in it) and simply choosing the right size for the people to live in, and then adding in the things you need to comfortably survive (ways to prepare food, places to sleep, etc.).

My other issue with Tiny Houses obviously shows my preference for location, because I’m realizing I would much rather live in a tiny apartment or condo in a city than way far out somewhere. I don’t have to own my own tiny roof or tiny siding or wheels. But with a condo or apartment, you lose affordability and independence. And you may be able to rent out a nice condo in a city if you need to move, but that doesn’t help you “bring your home with you” wherever you find yourself in the future – a major selling point you hear often from Tiny House enthusiasts.

And yet, with all these protestations, I still find myself occasionally throwing my hands up in the air with frustration at the cost of living and saying to Nick, “let’s get rid of everything and live in a Tiny House.” It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s somehow still appealing. But although many people out there make Tiny Houses work even with kids of a variety of ages, I know it wouldn’t be enough space for the way we live. So for now we’ll just wait until we’re further along in our one-year lease, hoping that the prices don’t increase too rapidly, the availability doesn’t diminish impossibly, and that the exact right place will open up for us at the right time. Who knows, maybe there will be the perfect Tiny House in someone’s yard in the city and I’ll have to eat my words. In a very small kitchen.

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