Letter From the Editor

Small Home Gazette, Summer 2010

Letter From the Editor: how do you define small?

Do you live in a small bungalow? By any popular measure, two-bedroom Twin Cities bungalows are small. But how do you define small? Is 1,000 square feet of living space small? Nine hundred? Eight-fifty?

How about a house with 89 square feet of living space? Yes, you read that right. If you’re rattling around in an 850-square-foot bungalow and don’t know what to do with all that space, you can downsize to an 89-square-foot stand-alone home—complete with living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. If you really want to conserve, there’s one that’s just 65 square feet, though you’ll have to make do with a living room measuring 4½ by 5½ feet.

Jay Shafer’s tiny house.

Jay Shafer’s tiny house.

Meet Jay Shafer, part of a loosely affiliated group that has redefined the concept of the not-so-big house. On the website of Shafer’s business (www.tumbleweedhouses.com), you can choose from 16 ready-made houses or purchase plans to build one yourself. The company offers what they call Small Houses, which range from 261 to 837 square feet; and a selection of Tiny Houses, which begin at 65 square feet and top out at a relatively voluminous 172 square feet. Shafer himself has lived in an 89-square-foot house—8 feet wide by 12 feet long—for several years. If nothing else, these tiny houses are adorable. Looking at them made me ache for a simplicity and purity I know I’ll never achieve.

Browsing Shafer’s website and its related publication, The Small House Book, reminded me of the distinction between wants and needs. We want a stand-alone house with two or more bedrooms, a separate dining room, a full basement, a two-car garage, and a nice yard and garden. Do we need all these things to survive and thrive? Of course not. If you’ve ever visited a very poor country, you know that even Shafer’s absurdly small houses are luxuries. And what kind of impact are even our small bungalows making on the environment? The owners of these tiny homes claim their utility bills total about $100 a year.

So what’s the takeaway from all this? Well, I’m not ready to give up my bungalow, but looking at these cute-as-a-bug homes did make me think about all that junk I’ve got in my basement and closets, much of which hasn’t been touched in 10 years. I spent the first couple decades of my adulthood acquiring, but I think I feel the un-acquiring phase of my life coming on.

At the very least, looking at tiny houses makes me even more grateful for what I’ve got and even less envious (if that’s possible) of bland new houses with cathedral-ceiling great rooms and three-car garages.

It seems the reasons to count my bungalow blessings just keep coming.


Jay’s Tiny House Tour (YouTube):

Small House Society: