By Steven Baczek
Tiny–very small, minute, diminutive in stature, limited or below average in number, or quantity, or magnitude, or extent. The “Tiny House” movement certainly applies those principles to its product. The most recognized aspect of those descriptions is in the physical size, or simply the look of the house. Although there aren’t many willing to squeeze their life into 400 square feet (or thereabouts), those who do provide the rest of us with some interesting thoughts to apply to our own lives. Questions about the “magnitude of need,” the “complexity of convenience,” or the concept of “reduction vs. minimalism” all strike a chord in understanding and defining our own principles.
Watching a 20-minute online video of “Tiny House Nation,” one can’t help but reflect on their own scale of need… or maybe more importantly, the distance between our needs and our desires. As a residential architect, it’s not uncommon for me to hear from a client, “I need at least 3,000 square feet of space.” When I call their bluff with, “What’s driving that need?” they give a series of default reasons conforming to some preconceived notion of a dream house. The idea of a tiny house certainly stands to battle those preconceived notions we have about living.
After coming to terms with one’s needs vs. one’s desires, the next major hurdle is the complexity of convenience. Many clients want to have a place, nook, or drawer for every apparatus and function in life, which takes their perceived level of simplicity into a realm of complex specificity. A strength of “Tiny House” lies in the flexibility of its components. I had a college professor that would stress, “If you can get one thing to do two, you’ve halved its impact.” Many aspects of “Tiny House” are proof of this concept. A table that lowers into a bed, or a whole house that can be re-located at will, show us that success does not lie in “everything in its place,” but rather that there’s “a place for everything.” It shows us that triumph lies in adaptability and flexibility, not specificity.
While I believe the underlying theme of “Tiny House” is commendable, most of the examples I’ve seen are discussions by people who have downsized. (“I used to live a complex life in the suburbs in a 3,000-square-foot house and wanted to simplify my life. Now I live in a 500-square-foot cabin by the lake.”) We’re all aware of the common example, and in no way do I impugn their efforts, for they offer much insight in their solutions. My question here lies in the difference between “reductionism” (yup, I made that one up) and “minimalism.”
Most of the efforts I’ve seen are examples of reduction. While commendable and inspirational, I see the efforts as an applied approach rather than an integrated approach. Let me explain with a common analogy. Two people are going on vacation. Person one walks into their closet and thinks, “Out of all this stuff, what can I live without while on vacation?” and proceeds to pack their answer. Person two however, walks into the closet and thinks, “What do I need to take with me to get by on vacation?” I see person one applying a concept of reduction, trying to understand what they don’t need from a vast compilation of resources. Person two however, minimizes the load to only what is needed. My point here being that person two would usually end up with much less packed than person one. Reduction sparks a conservatism that blinds our true understanding of need. Minimalism provides us the necessary blinders to understand our bare essentials.
I’m not saying that the concept of reduction is wrong–quite the contrary. It does work, and the “Tiny House” movement is proof. BUT, I believe that understanding minimalism broadens the spectrum of success far beyond the conservatism of reduction. Freedom from holding on to what we know, and delving into the idea of only what we need allows the concept of “Tiny House” to transcend out of its current boundaries and into a much wider forum of use. After all, “Tiny House” shouldn’t mean “Tiny Thinking.”
Photos by: David Wells Photography