Teeny Tiny Little Homes

“Tiny houses” are growing in popularity but one tiny cost never comes up: time.

I lived in about 90 square feet (albeit with a really nice “porch”) for a lot of most summers when I was growing up.

We had a 27′, 1950 Richardson cabin cruiser then; the cabin was about 10′ long and the boat had a 9′ beam. There was plenty of room as long as we didn’t mind making beds up every night and making furniture again in the morning. The boat had an enclosed head, a galley with ice box, and a lot of stowage. Boat, RV, and tiny house designers have learned to find storage everywhere (there is always more space available in the hull of the boat than is accessible).

On a boat or “boondocking” (also called “dry camping”), the grocery store often is not reachable.

Modern boats of that size have showers and hot water in the enclosed head and their galleys have electric refrigerators. But we didn’t have a washer or dryer. We didn’t have a freezer. We didn’t have room for more than a couple days of food although we could always hide an extra couple of cans of Dinty Moore beef stew or corned beef for sandwiches.

Tiny HouseTiny houses are at a big crossroad, according to Plastics News.

“Twenty-five tiny houses are under construction in a blighted Detroit neighborhood by a non-profit group with a plan that could become a national model for helping people who earn about $12,000 a year become homeowners in seven years.”

There are plenty of other “tiny house” projects. Rufus reminded me that Vic de Zen of Royal Plastics had developed a line of tiny houses made from extruded PVC to be used quickly to replace houses after a hurricane trashed the Carribean islands.

“I really think that house shown in the article is pretty …. but I have waaaaaay too much stuff for 400 square feet!” Rufus said. “And I hope that continues to be the case.”

The even smaller 300-square foot Tudor-style tiny house in the article had electric and heating bills, in the middle of cold Michigan in February, will be $32 because that minimal space has “9 inches of insulation and very energy efficient windows.”

$32 for light and heat in February seems high. A human body and a lightbulb should be able to heat that little space with that much insulation. Put two human bodies in there and you’d have to open a window to cool the place.

The race is on for smaller and smaller spaces. One man lives in a 207-square-foot space with his wife and two kids. The Richardson had just 90-square-feet in the cabin.

Rufus has waaaaaay too much stuff but the real question isn’t what stuff you give up but what other cost?

There is no room for collections of books. “I miss them, but I have audiobooks on my phone and a Kindle,” Liz Arden said.

There isn’t any wall space for art. “I have a 40-inch flat screen on one wall and three other smaller screens and they all cycle through my etchings,” North Puffin’s mayor and general roue Beau Pinder said.

“There’s no storage for my shot glasses and salt-and-pepper shakers,” Alice said. OK, that’s a problem.

Stuff really isn’t the issue. Ms. Arden has decluttered her life, so the spare look needed in a tiny space works for her.

Time is the issue.

Larger spaces have room for a pantry or a workshop or a craftroom or a studio which means larger spaces have food for the week or the month and a pipe wrench for the bathroom leak and a sewing machine for the quilt and a stack of unfinished and partially finished canvases (eventually) for sale. Larger spaces have dedicated rooms for eating and sleeping and pooping.

Tiny spaces eat time to shop every day or two for food. The home repair job takes time to borrow or rent a pipe wrench. Sewing the quilt takes time to visit an “offsite” community center. The stack of canvases means a separate studio. The artist has to get dressed and travel there to create. The storage under the bed/sofa/lounge and the dining room table/work bench/desk/kitchen counter means tearing down one job to set up the next. The head lived under the starboard berth in our first boat giving new meaning to the idea that “you have to get up to go.”

The trade-off is a good one and one most tiny house owners make happily. After all, a space that does so many different things so well is a joy. There is no 10′ Christmas tree to drag out to the compost pile. And, bonus, since there is no room for wrapping paper, you don’t have to wrap Christmas presents.

The caveat? Time is the only non-renewable resource in the tiny house oeuvre.


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