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Tiny homes are fitting symbols of economic precarity

Elm, by Tumbleweed, Tiny House Company

There is something inherently romantic about the nomadic lifestyle cooked up in the 1960’s, exemplified by the VW van and the desert campfire. While this relic of America’s recent past became, undoubtedly, the inspiration for the Tiny Home movement in recent years, the reasons for its current popularity do not match those of its precedent.

Interior of Elm, by Tumbleweed, Tiny House Company

Megan Carras “toured homes, attended tiny house festivals, stayed in a tiny house community, and interviewed several dozen people who live in them” to reach a discover that there is more to their wide spread use than popularly imagined. Tiny homes are, as Carras makes evident, a sign of economic precarity – one particularly felt by the millennial generation.

“All the tiny-houser millennials that I interviewed wanted to own bigger houses in the future,” Carras reports. “They saw tiny living as a means of owning something now and being able to save at the same time. Several young couples planned to upgrade once they had children, selling their tiny homes or even keeping them as guesthouses… [But] part from the obvious challenge of saving enough to afford a bigger place, it’s not easy to sell tiny homes since they usually depreciate in value. And because they are not attached to land, there is often a question mark about their long-term viability as well.”

The precarity felt by those that subscribe to the Tiny Home movement, as Carras observes, is physicalized by the fact that these homes literally do not have a solid foundation. As one interviewee told Carras: “It doesn’t feel that grounded; it feels like we are detached from the earth because there are wheels underneath us . . . It’s a constant reminder . . . you are in this fragile state of housing.”

While the Tiny Home movement is a positive alternative to the equally famed McMansion, there is much to the psychology of the trend that needs to be addressed in future designs and coding.