It Doesn't Have to Be Tiny: You Have Options

I've been watching more Tiny House shows lately, and for obvious reasons, I am particularly drawn in to the shows about families that have decided to go tiny. Some of them I really admire, and I can't help but root for them along the way, especially the families that are rebuilding or recovering from some kind of illness or tragedy.

Other families, though...I watch them and I wonder where they are now. I would honestly be surprised if they were all still living in their tiny houses. I know for a fact that some of them have moved on, whether by choice or by forced eviction.

And here's the thing that I wish I could say upfront to some of these families: going tiny is not your only (or even best) option.

It really all comes down to the motivation for going tiny. Is it to be more environmentally conscious? Is it to reduce the amount of time you spend cleaning and maintaining your home? Is it to grow closer together as a family? Is it to save money? Is it to have the benefit of being able to easily relocate your home?

Here's the truth: unless you specifically desire to be mobile, you can probably meet all of these goals just as easily by buying a small house instead.

I know that might seem like a shocking statement coming from someone who lives in a tiny(ish) house, but let me address these motivations and hear me out, okay?

Are tiny houses really better for the environment?

There are tons of 600-1200 square foot mid-century homes in the U.S. that are already built, and moving into one of these instead of building a brand new tiny home is honestly probably better for the environment unless you plan to live in your tiny home forever. The environmental cost of new materials plus the carbon emissions of a vehicle big enough to transport the home (if you do plan to move it), not to mention the waste generated from any new construction, are all marks against the eco-friendliness of tiny homes. It's just the truth. Over the long term, a tiny house will probably come out ahead, but if your plan for tiny house living is a more or less temporary one, you probably aren't going to be doing the earth any favors.

The smaller the house, the easier it is to keep clean...right? Maybe not.

When it comes to building and maintaining a home, it's true that smaller is usually easier and quicker. But you can get many of the same benefits of reduced cleaning time just by going with a smaller house. It doesn't have to be tiny. In fact, sometimes tiny will work against you. Have you ever tried to make a bed when you are sitting on it? It's not easy, and this may be your reality in a loft bedroom or in a bedroom where the bed is wedged in between two walls.

There are other considerations as well. Wide open spaces are easier to vacuum than cramped ones are. It's easier to avoid clutter when you have room to store everything. Keeping a small home clean is not that much harder than cleaning a tiny house, and in some ways it's probably easier.

You want to be closer to your family, but how close is too close?

If you want to go tiny with young kids, remember this: kids grow. You want to be physically close so that you can have a closer relationship, and that's great, but the truth is that you can only physically fit so many bodies into one tiny bathroom. What happens when your toddlers are suddenly teenagers who take as much time as you do to get ready in the morning? We haven't experienced this yet, but I know that day is coming. I'm sure we'll figure it out, but you had better believe that there are days when I long for another bathroom or even just a slightly bigger one.

Close physical proximity to the members of your family does mean that you have to learn how to get along, but I think you can get most of the benefits of being near your loved ones without feeling like you are literally on top of them all day long. A small house where everyone has room to sit on the couch or eat at the table at the same time definitely has its advantages. And if everyone in your family is not on board with the move to go tiny, you might be in for a pretty short-lived and miserable experience.

Saving money can really go either way.

Tiny houses are not cheap these days, even if you have the ability to build one for yourselves. We paid more than $40,000 for our park model ten years ago, but I see many tiny houses going for far more than that. We have been blessed to be able to park our home on land belonging to family, but if we didn't have that available to us, we would be looking at land costs or space rent in addition to the cost of our home.

We also pay more than $700 a year to insure our house because we had to take out a loan to buy it. And speaking of loans, they are incredibly hard to come by for tiny house purchases. Even now we've tried to refinance our home three times because our original lender set up our loan in a way that has had some unexpected consequences for us, and we've been turned down each time, either because the lending institution doesn't do loans for park models (including the bank that currently owns our house because their policies have changed) or because we are not a good enough bet for a loan like this despite having near-perfect credit.

Here's another shocker you might not have expected: we do actually pay property taxes on our home. In our state of residence, a "permanently" sited park model is subject to personal property tax just like any other manufactured house. Yes, our taxes are fairly minimal, but don't think you're necessarily going to fly under the radar just because your house is on wheels and considered an RV.

If you plan to be mobile, you probably won't be hit up for property taxes, but you might have an even bigger expense waiting for you: the purchase, licensing, fueling, insuring, and maintaining of a seriously big pickup truck capable of towing your home from place to place. It's not a cost that is typically accounted for on tiny house shows, but it's one that I often think about as I watch. The people who rent a truck occasionally to move their homes are surely onto something if their goal is to live less expensively.

Have we saved money buy going tiny? Definitely. But only because we don't have to worry about land costs to park our home and because we're in it for the long term. Paying tens of thousands of dollars for a home you are only going to live in for a few years makes little financial sense unless you have a plan for leveraging your investment in the future. Tiny houses do not appreciate in value the way small foundation-built homes do, so getting a good return on your investment beyond having a place to live isn't guaranteed. At least with a site-built small home, you have something to sell that is actually worth quite a bit of money when you are ready to move on.

Yeah, tiny houses on wheels are good at being mobile (most of the time).

Now, if your primary goal in going tiny is to be able to relocate at the drop of a hat, you may be onto something. Moving between homes is a pain. Moving your home when it is road legal and you have a vehicle to tow it is far simpler. At least this is what I assume since I've never actually towed a tiny house down the interstate before. Even if you have to pay a professional to move your home like we do, it's not impossible by any means. If my parents decided to sell their property tomorrow, we could theoretically relocate our home. That said, we'd have to go through the process to find a suitable location to move to, and that's often a lot easier said than done.

Why all the sudden hate for tiny houses?

It sure sounds like I'm bashing tiny homes, doesn't it? Here's the truth, though: I love our tiny house (most of the time). I love the fact that I don't have to spend hours each day cleaning (even though I hate making the beds and vacuuming around everything). I love being close to my kids (with well-timed breaks to recover my sanity). I love the money that we save (because we're blessed to not have to pay for a place to park). I don't mind that our home isn't super mobile because there's absolutely no place that I would rather live than in this corner of creation near the people I love.

I love tiny houses.

But I think I would be just as happy in a small, well-priced, traditional home given the right setting and circumstances. So if you are contemplating going tiny, don't romanticize it. Realize that just like everything in life, tiny house living has its downsides, too. Try to get an accurate picture of what living in a tiny house might look like before you jump in head first, and give some thought to the future, especially if you have kids. Going tiny is not the only way to give them the kind of idyllic life you have been dreaming about. You have options.