The Next Little Thing (Or Rich People Hobbies)

This morning, you may have read the article in the New York Times, “The Next Little Thing,” about a movement where people build tiny houses — generally defined as less than 1000 square feet and, in some cases, less than 100.  Most of these people maintain their big houses elsewhere and, on the weekends or when they want to “get away from it all,” will live in their small shacks and lavish their “unencumbered lifestyle.”  Doesn’t this make you feel warm and fuzzy all over?  Damn, I wish I had thought of that.  I think I’ll just find some wood from craigslist and go up to some field in Westchester and build me a little house.

On its face, I have nothing against the small house movement.  Go ahead.  If everyone moves into small houses, then we can reduce our energy costs and perhaps have a mental health day every day of the week because our lives will be simpler.  Can’t we all just make our lives simpler? 

Frankly, though, I think the small house movement is a prime example of what happens when rich elites with the luxury and resources get together and try to do something so that other people will pat them on the back, so that they can be like “regular people.”  Apparently, the New York Times, in all its great wisdom, fell into the trap of reserving several pages in their paper on this movement.  What the New York Times doesn’t tell you is that these people don’t represent the majority of Americans — not because of their adventurous spirit, but because they are in a different tax bracket than the majority of us. 

Sure, while its notable that some people have made the “choice” to simplify their lives and move into a 100 square foot house, the majority of Americans frankly don’t have this choice.  No, it’s not because “these people” have limited vision.  Rather, a large percentage of Americans who are just trying to make ends meet lack the money and resources to do what the people in the tiny house movement — most of whom are receiving the majority of the tax cuts that Sir Bush has given — are able to do: go out into a field and build an 80 square foot house to live in.

What about the large segment of our population that live in a tiny house or a tiny apartment, not because it’s “cool” or “environmentally sound dude,” but because they cannot afford anything bigger?  What about the large segment of our population that work like dogs for eight to ten hours a day and still don’t have enough to buy a place of their own, much less save a little each month?  I’m sure we’d all love to have a ‘second house,’ even if it was 100 square feet — but if I did that, I’d have to go on public assistance.  I need to work to pay the bills, and I live pretty simply.  I would love to live on granola and farm on land, but unforunately my job isn’t around a farm and I don’t have any land to farm and granola is really expensive. 

I guess for rich people, choosing to live in a “tiny house” is cool and hip.  I think if they want to be cool and environmentally hip, maybe instead of building new tiny houses, they should move into houses that millions of Americans are living in now — you know, those cramped, overcrowded residences.  I’m sure we could find you a closet or something that’s even smaller than 80 square feet.  In return, the Americans living in these houses (clearly, according to the tiny house movement, who are short sighted and a slave to the rat race) could move into your big houses.  You know, like house swapping.  That would be more environmentally sound.  And that would be a hobby I would love to see happen.


8 thoughts on “The Next Little Thing (Or Rich People Hobbies)

  1. Interesting point of view but I think you missed the most important point and read something into the article that’s not there.

    The tiny house movement is NOT a game for the middle class. If you take a close look you’ll see people from every income level from those struggling day to day to people like me with good day jobs. Backgrounds and education levels also seem to vary widely.

    Am I rich? No I have a good job, today, and I’m one pay check from living in that tiny house in the field. I also work in the financial services industry and if you haven’t noticed layoffs are a real daily threat.

    The point of all this is… no matter who you are or how you’re currently living… when you choose to live with less, borrow less, or at least within your means, you’ll have more time and money to do the things you want.

    For me my current home is my achilles heel. What’s your achilles heel? Explore it!

  2. Hmmmmm MrCheeseBurger… not sure you’ve got this right. What I read between the lines… since you’re reading between the lines… was that Mr. Janzen is actually trying to show how anyone with a little creativity, poor, rich, educated, uneducated, can find a way to make their life better. Check out his blog

    1. Out here in the heartland (the fly over states) it’s not the $50K tiny homes that people are buying. It’s a $6K used trailer in a run down park. The sometimes working class discovered tiny homes long ago. It’s called a used 36 foot camper and they are increasingly becoming popular.

      1. I often get things wrong and I appreciate your kind response. It’s a while back when I looked at it. But when I look at some of the youtube videos now, I’m not sure I buy into the “lifestyle” idea of the small house. Some people, as you point out, don’t have the luxury of living in a “big” house. That was my attempted point.

  3. I agree with the previous comments. I feel like the overall point of the article was missed. Especially since it’s not only people who live in their tiny homes on the weekends who were discussed in the article. Yes it may be true that it’s becoming more hip to live small, but the majority of the wealthy still prefer to show off their wealth and have large spaces in which to entertain. Beyond that, the most important thing we should be looking at is effect. Even if people are building a tiny house as a second home, isn’t that better than building a 6000 square foot house in the mountains or on the beach? Overall footprint is still reduced. And many people in the tiny house movement are not wealthy and are barely getting by. I personally went way into debt (federal student loans) last year renting a 270-square-foot cottage in California to be near my school. Now, my guy (who also has considerable debt) and I are renovating a very small building into a house, which will hopefully keep us from going more into debt.

    When it comes down to it, even if it becomes hip to live small, aren’t the consequences of that hipness worth it? Arresting growth of McMansions for a more sustainable existence is nothing to sneeze at.

  4. What the media often forgets is that there are two groups of the wealthy: old money and new money.

    Old money types invest their money in stocks and bonds, and saving for the future (such as college-so their kids aren’t in debt in their mid-20s). They have been brought up learning how to care for their money and learning how to grow it as well. I babysit for a lot of old money women. They drive sensible cars, live in beautiful (but not garish) houses filled with family heirlooms, they send their children to private schools (or not) and take sensible but nice vacations.

    New money people, on the other hand, usually don’t know when to pull back, so they go all out with their money. They spend their fortunes on luxury cars, giant houses, and status clothing. Not wise. This whole “tiny house” thing seems more new money to me. All of this to say, if a rich person takes care of their money, then those who blow their money on silly things have no say whatever their income level.

  5. I can’t agree with the primes of your article. I live in a 450 Sq Foot house that I built with my sons help from bought plans. My cost was approximately $10K. I choose to live simply but comfortably. I have no mortgage and my tiny house is on my own small piece of land. My annual energy bills total less than $500 a year and my taxes are approximately $400 a year. Then again I am single and retired. The tiny house movement is alive and well not so much for the wealthy but rather those who choose to live cheaply and frugally.

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