I see the era of the McMansion coming to an end. You know, those enormous houses that have been springing out of plan books and onto tight lotline cul-de-sacs all across the United States for the past 20 years. Their time of relative popularity is waning because people are tired of spending all their money and time taking care of these houses. We find ourselves house poor and unable to achieve happiness in our lives.
Today, we see that:
- Home ownership is dropping
- Living expenses are continuing to rise
- The median home cost has nearly doubled in the last 20 years
- Wages have been stagnant for that same 20 years
- Average home sizes have almost tripled since 1960
- Young adults are rightfully skeptical of financial institutions
- Young people are equally confused about why they need such a big house
- Trust in our governmental representatives is at an all-time low
- Oil prices continue to rise (despite the current lull- that will be “corrected” soon)
- The results of unsustainable personal debt levels are becoming painfully visible
- and who knows what the weather is doing these days…
There will always be a segment of our population that can afford to live in grand homes with the privilege and comfort that wealth can provide. However, for those of us who will never be part of that elite community, we are realizing that homes and possessions and heavy financial obligations are an unyielding source of stress that do not guarantee happiness. Retail therapy has never really helped anybody do anything except fill their closets and storage units with more fabulous shoes, seasonal jackets, sports equipment, and organization systems than we know what to do with.
Perhaps the North Star of this 21st century move toward a more sustainable life is the Tiny House Movement. I am referring to the folks that are building fully-functional homes on 8’x20′ dual axle trailers. These are not poorly built mobile-homes but hand-crafted homes built to suit their owners particular needs and comfort that just happen to be mobile! Due to size and weight restrictions (not to mention the need to handle freeway speeds!), these unique structures are constructed to very tight tolerances but still offer the features we expect of “home.”
A great example of one of these homes is the one built by Guillaume and Jenna of Tiny House Giant Journey fame. Theirs is a customized plan from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company which they are towing around the the US and Canada as they pursue their dream careers in travel journalism. They are one of the few folks that actually tow their house around like a camper and, because of that, I also see them as accidental evangelists of a simpler and lighter way to live.
When my wife and I met them this past weekend in Milton, Massachusetts, they still expressed some surprise that people would turn out in decent numbers to meet them, listen to their stories, and tour their beautifully crafted home on wheels. It is remarkable to me that, despite the strong social and economic push toward upgrading and upsizing our lives, there are more and more people that feel like these conditions put unnecessary pressure on our lives that detract from the very quality of life we are striving to improve!
Guillaume and Jenna are inspiring to me partly because, as my family works to decrease our possessions and better manage our obligations, here is a couple that has radically changed their lifestyle to eliminate debt and minimize their monthly expenses while still living a full and rich life.
You know it can be done but understanding the concept and seeing the reality are two different things!
They have made the move to a Tiny House based on their own motivation and needs. Perhaps one of the most beautiful things about this movement is that it has developed out of a deep desire for freedom and self-reliance. Every story I read about people like Guillaume and Jenna is unique in that they all come to their decision from a different direction but have found a clear expression of their need to live more simply in these tiny homes. The deeply American concepts of “Freedom” and “Self-Reliance” have lost much of their power over the last couple decades by those who wished for us to follow along with their version of freedom, by those who want us to need whatever product they’re selling, to be afraid of actually thinking for ourselves.
We, as a people, have become so distracted by the next new and shiny thing, that we have forgotten how fortunate we are to live where we do and however we choose to. We are so busy wanting that we have lost sight of what we actually have. We have been looking for that easy fix for so long that we forget that we can take charge of our own lives!
If Living Lightly means divesting ourselves of most of our possessions, paying off our debt, and living in a smaller home that is easy to afford and care for, then do it! It may mean simplifying the complex schedules our lives run on these days and paying more attention to the people that matter most to us. It may also mean taking the time to volunteer and help those who are less fortunate than ourselves because giving to others is, paradoxically, as good for us as it is for the recipient of our attentions.
The Tiny House movement is a symbol of how out of balance we have become and offers a one way to help restore a sense of calm and purpose to our lives. It certainly isn’t the only way to go about it but it addresses one of the key issues we face today. I believe it also offers us the opportunity to live for something other than constantly maintaining our expensive homes and our untenable lifestyles. In every blog, article, and book I have read about living lightly, there is one element that people have found in greater abundance after changing their lifestyle- happiness. They have found a sense of contentment that was missing despite the full closets and full schedules.
It had been sitting right there the whole time. They just needed to push the crap out of the way and pick it up.