We need to be careful about tiny houses

Our obsession with #tinyhousenation could be consequential.

“Claustrophobia” by Nina Valetova.

iny house living, van life, tube hotels — what do all these things have in common? They all involve voluntarily living in confined spaces. They’re all blogged about, a lot. They look really fun to the adventurous tourist or the eco-conscious 21st century home owner.

And we all need to be very careful about their perception.

Have you ever seen an episode of Tiny House Nation on netflix? They usually go like this: A family or a couple want to consciously reduce the circumstances by which they live. This is usually fueled by a desire to live more meaningfully and reduce their carbon footprint. Shoulder to shoulder, they tour cramped spaces. Their kids play in the tiny bunk beds, they move around the micro kitchen, and they muse about the importance of vertically stacked storage.

Eventually, they choose a beautiful little box in the countryside. It’s surrounded by acres of space, where their children can play — and grow through the roof faster than a pair of shoes.

A tiny house in a Portland Oregon.

For the hip urban professional, maybe a “micro apartment” is a trendy pad. I mean, if you live in a crowded city why not move into a slick, efficient space. You’ll be living more consciously by helping humanity avoid the problems that come with overpopulation.

Right?

Here, we run into an old economist named Thomas Malthus, who believed humans would always outlive their means of subsistence. He’s responsible for our modern conceptions of overpopulation, he proposed the population needed to be kept in check to avoid collapse.

In a way, these tiny house-ers are trying to avoid those population checks by voluntarily cramming themselves into shoe boxes.

The problem is, we still don’t know if Malthus was right. It is perfectly possible that there are enough resources for everyone to live on this planet if we change our priorities and organize our economies differently. Fear of overpopulation could be the thing growing out of proportion.

While young urban professionals and eco-conscious people flock to tiny homes and micro-apartments. Millions of lower class people around the world are forced to live in claustrophobically confined spaces. After the recession in 2008, American families were moving into vans to avoid living on the street. #vanlife. Whole families all around the world from Hong Kong to Pittsburg are crammed into apartments the size of cubicles. #tinyhousenation.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Not everyone should live in confined spaces. Medical concerns, accessibility needs, and old age come to mind as justification for more space. The growing popularity of “tiny living” amongst middle to upper class people is like poverty tourism. Even more concerning: the obsession with cramped spaces by those with stable financial situations could lead to accepting these spaces for everyone.

If people glorify “tiny living” we might be more willing, as a society, to accept housing projects that function like military barracks or prisons: housing as storage.

For an extreme, on the nose, dystopian scenario example: imagine a future where people are stuffed away like products on a shelf and only emerge when their labour is needed.

“My business is architecture,” Scene from “The Holy Mountain,” 1973.

For a tin foil hat-less example, consider the boomer generation as they move into retirement homes. The modern, hip perceptions of confined spaces could lead to retirement homes that focus more on efficiency of space than comfort and care. I don’t want to slide Grandma into a morgue before she’s dead.

Obviously, reducing one’s means of living isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s probably a very important step in solving mounting environmental issues. But political consciousness must go beyond environmentalism; it has to recognize class struggles as well. We should dispel myths about overpopulation, and stop selfishly and insensitively striving to be on Tiny House Nation. We should focus on finding housing solutions that balance peoples needs with efficiency, and hold the wealthy accountable for unethical uses of space.

We need to part with our tiny house obsession. Hip marketing trends might make us more willing to universalize the tiny house lifestyle and move towards (and into) architecture and urban planning that lacks empathy, considering housing more like human storage.

Journalism student at the University of King's College, Halifax N.S Canada. Writer, music enthusiast, and cautious defender of the Oxford comma.