Tom Caru

The tiny house movement: How less gives you more

Tom Caru outlines the positives of the tiny house movement, explaining how the reduction in size allows growth in other areas.


Whenever an individual (or group) draws attention to themselves by dramatically changing their situation, two things usually happen – some people take notice, and some people take offence. I recently wrote about how making changes to what you eat can cause close friends and family to leap to a pre-emptive defence of their own choices.

I see a similar pattern emerging in the way some people have been responding to the growing tiny house movement.

I am sure by now you are familiar with the term “tiny house.” They are homes of 30 to 60 square metres of living space, made out of recycled and/or upcycled material, touted for their affordability, eco-affability and low living costs.

So, is making the switch just a tiny change to the status quo?

When people make the change, while they may be silently stating, “This is all I really need.” But other people may only hear a challenge: “See! I don’t need all that stuff that you value!”

Unfortunately, and all too often in our modern world of industrialised consumerism, we define our success by our capacity to consume. Most of us would never justify it so tritely, because it may have never been a conscious choice; rather a passive continuation of the world we grew up in.

While we may reflect on excess, we may also rationalise it differently, thinking in terms of “need” and redefining the term itself with each additional pay rise.

This makes the entrance of a third-party problematic: those who choose to live out of a minuscule house, perched atop a trailer that a Prius could haul up a mountain. Suddenly your rationalisations of “need” are undermined, since rationalisations of “need” are predominantly predicated on notions of value and nothing challenges people more than an attack their values. This misplaced vitriol is manifested in negative articles such as Five things I hate about the tiny house movement or wordy blog rants entertaining the worst-case scenarios.

Beyond the pros versus the cons, the decision to live small is a decision to redefine yourself. A decision to reject the conventional value system based on needs; one that urges us to consume an ever-increasing amount of material things.

When you have a world-view that essentially equates excess with success, you are valuing quantity over quality. Because values are universal, they tend to bleed from one area of our lives to the next. It reasonably follows that when you decide to buy a fridge, if you were to buy a big one it would likely go inside your big kitchen inside your big house. When you are creating a “reasonable” portion size for meal, or ordering one at a restaurant, it is going be larger by default, because it is what you see as reasonable.

Definitions of “reasonable” are really based on definitions of “need.” If you take only what you need, you have taken a reasonable amount. If you take more than what you need, that would be unreasonable. In this way, needs are justifiable, excesses are not.

The choice to live minimally is undoubtedly an expression of an individual’s value of quality over quantity and is likely expressed in other life choices. Whether those choices have to do with foods consumed, friendships invested in, relationships sought or time spent with family.

People who can lead a fulfilling life consuming the least, have the most objective definition of “need.” Even if you’re not ready to live inside a renovated shipping container, you might be ready to be a little more grateful for what you have and learn to be happier with less.

I understand that there are complex issues at play and entire economies would likely collapse if we all downsized our abodes to something a little more humble. But just because something is complex or difficult, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth thinking about.

The question is worth asking.

If we could learn to live with less, maybe there would be a little more left over for everyone else. After all, just because there is water on Mars doesn’t mean there is any less shit in our ocean.


Tom Caru

Tom is a writer, healthy lifestyle enthusiast and a stark raving mad Batfleck fan. Coffee lover, traveller and creator of the *Around the World in 80 Gyms*® project. He currently resides in Michigan, eternally searching for better coffee and learning to drive on the other side of the road.

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