I have always been obsessed with tiny houses and fascinated by the people who choose to live there as a permanent residence. (Note: A tiny house is a house under 400 square feet, while a small house is a house under 1000 square feet.) The most well-known name linked to tiny houses is probably Jay Shafer who began living in an 89 square foot home (take a brief tour of his tiny home here) and founded Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in 1999. In 2012, he left his first company for new adventures founding Four Lights Tiny House Company. (Go ahead click on the links. Check out the tiny houses. Do you think you could live in one?)
There are usually one of two reactions to tiny homes:
Reaction 1: How could anyone ever live in a space so small? Where would I put all my shoes?
Reaction 2: Wow! Awesome! I would love to live in a tiny home. Life would be gloriously simple!
What initial reaction do you have?
I imagine the reality of living in a small space falls somewhere between these two extremes. There are some obvious advantages to tiny house living that come to mind. First, cleaning would not take nearly as much time. Additionally, the stress that comes with owning lots of useless crap would probably be reduced. Your choices of items like shirts and coffee mugs would be simplified, and these self-imposed limitations would save you noticeable time cumulatively. Most significantly though, tiny house living probably has incentives both economically and environmentally. Just consider the cost of heating a regular 2,000 square foot home and the associated environmental consequences of that energy use compared to that of a 100 square foot tiny house (not to mention the reduction in the amount of materials used to build the home). Furthermore, some tiny homes are designed to function completely off the grid, which would definitely bring reducing energy and water use to the forefront of considerations.
Now let’s look at the obvious disadvantages. First, you just can’t own tons of stuff. You probably will not opt for a large jacuzzi tub in your bathroom in a tiny house. (However, some have chosen to include an outdoor hot tub.) You’ll need to make efficient use of all space, therefore some items are just unnecessary or impossible, like treadmills, large lazy-boy recliners, and big screen televisions. You will not be able to have a basement as a large space for storage (or a freezer full of food). In fact, meal planning might have to become much more purposeful. (But is this really a downside?) Also, while I am just over five feet and small spaces do not frighten me, I can imagine someone over six feet with any form of claustrophobia might be intimidated by this limited living arrangement. And not to be overlooked, depending on where you live, you may run into some zoning issues, if you’re living in a really-tiny, tiny house. (For more merits of tiny house living check out this blog!)
While I’ve fantasized about these tiny houses for years, I have never actually lived in one. Why? Hmmm. Well, first I have two dogs, and I’m not sure how they would adapt to the space. I have not identified the perfect space to put one, and I also love having a garage that I can drive into during the Wisconsin winters. So yes, there are a few aspects that are preventing me from diving into the growing revolution of tiny houses.
But here’s why tiny houses interest me. Like many changes in society they began small (that’s obvious!), but have started to take off over the past two decades. Many people are now choosing to live in less space, and not just those seeking solitude off the grid with a grand view. Others desiring to live with many advantages opt for luxury micro-apartments, like New York City’s Carmel Place where their own personalized space is creatively designed and furnished and includes several amenities like a concierge service, housekeeping, and access to social areas and workout facilities. There are even tiny house hotels popping up for those who would like to test drive a model while on vacation.
Because I love the creativity and concept of tiny house living and I teach environmental science, this is an interest I bring into the classroom. Now I know it isn’t the best practice to force your personal interests on your students, but I think students do appreciate it when you are passionate about something. During this time of the school year when my students are losing momentum and many are taking several advanced placement tests while simultaneously counting down the days to graduation, my environmental science students design their own tiny house or micro-apartment. This project is usually a hit for many reasons.
- Creative Outlet- First, the students enjoy the creative outlet that the project offers. They really dive into every detail of the space. Artistic students thrive, while those that are less artistically inclined can create some amazing designs using an online floor plan design program, like Floorplanner.com.
- Clear Vision/Purpose-The students also seem driven by their vision and not by the grade they are aiming for. Some students desire to build these someday. This is important, because there have been many times where I have my teacher vision that is crystal clear, but this of course is not translated to the vision of my students.
- Flexibility and Freedom– Students are able to shape and mold the project as they see fit. They are given a simple checklist, but this is not set in stone. In fact, if they feel it is in opposition to their tiny house vision, they are able to ignore or modify that item.
- Multiple Points of Connection- This project is clearly connected to sustainability and renewable energy, but it can also be connected with economics and math if students calculate the cost to heat the space for the year or the cost per square foot. Those that lean towards interior design are able to examine materials for their environmental impact while assessing their aesthetic look. Others enjoy spending time designing the exterior features and the outdoor space, considering exactly where their tiny home should be placed for maximum enjoyment. There are probably several more connections that could be mentioned if the students were to actually build a tiny house. (The possibilities are endless!)
The tiny house movement, is very much like the movement of innovation in the classroom. Many teachers are slightly reluctant to make the switch and take a risk but the idea of possible improvement appeals to them. Just like the tiny house movement, one does not need to begin building tomorrow, but may instead decide to spend a couple of nights at a tiny house hotel before devoting more time and energy towards the endeavor. Like tiny houses, innovation is education is a broad concept, and there are many directions one could go. It does not need to be extravagant or complicated. You don’t have to invest in a luxury micro-apartment, you can start simple and make improvements and modifications along the way. Also, innovations and risks are never set in stone, just like living in a tiny house on wheels you can always change your course for a different view that might be more suited for students. Ultimately though both movements take you closer to a clear purpose in life that provides contentment and fulfillment.
My students are not the only ones thinking about the approaching summer. (In fact, there are 24 days of school left.) Summer is a necessary time for educators to not only to relax and recharge but also reflect on the previous year. We often use this time to find inspiration to make impactful changes. Hopefully, you like me might be inspired to stay at a tiny house hotel, and no matter where your summer takes you the mental image of the tiny house can help you remember:
It’s the little things that make life big.