The Tiny House Movement Explained

Tiny houses can seem like a dream when they crop up on IG — serene settings, simple lives and beautiful builds. But where did they come from and what are some of the practical considerations of moving into a tiny house? Here is the tiny house movement explained.

Tiny Houses Are More Than Just Buildings, They’re a Movement

The best place to start is with the foundations: what on earth is a ‘tiny house’? Well, there is no fixed definition, but it is exactly what you think it is — a very small house, often less than 400 sq. ft (37 sq. m). Now you may be thinking that lots of city apartments (and studios) come close to falling into this tiny category, and you’d be right! But, what separates a tiny house from just any small dwelling is that they are more than a building, they are part of a movement.

The tiny house movement includes social aspects of ‘simple living’, including community support, financial prudence (saving those pennies) and a shift away from consumerism. Where and when the movement was born is not so easy to pinpoint. Even the earliest humans lived in small spaces, and the 19th-century writings of authors such as Henry David Thoreau etch out much of the practical and philosophical foundations of the tiny house movement we have today.

Via Unsplash: Part of the tiny house movement is about slowing down and living more simply.

However, the tiny house movement proper really gained traction in 1990’s America. It was a time when individual wealth and subsequently house sizes were steadily growing, and many people were looking at alternative and more sustainable ways to live. Enter architect Sarah Susanka and her book ‘The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Live’. It fueled the debate of quantity vs quality of living space and became the blueprint of the modern tiny house movement.

Since the late ‘90s, the movement has snowballed, and with more people than ever looking at how they can live more sustainably, we’re likely to see many more tiny houses in the near future. In fact, it is becoming so popular, even behemoths like Amazon are starting to offer DIY tiny house kits, for better or worse.

Types of Tiny House and Where to Get Them

It can be hard to get to grips with the tiny house movement since there are so many different types out there, but they generally fall into two main groups: static and mobile. Mobile tiny homes include everything from wheels on an oversized trailer to converted buses (or even more unusual vehicles) and some that cruise rivers rather than roads. Static are your more classic designs — small shed-like structures, cabins, cob huts, shipping containers, yurts, etc.

Many people opt to build or convert their own tiny houses, which is very much in line with the philosophy of the movement, and there are plenty of companies that offer plans for tiny houses. In fact, it’s pretty easy to find free designs for tiny houses with just a few clicks! Of course, if you decide to convert a vehicle or existing structure into a tiny house, your design is going to be dictated by what you start with. There is, however, also the option to buy tiny houses through specialised sites and services, and the experience of living in a tiny house can be tested through long or short term holiday rental sites, which frequently list cabins, conversions and unique small homes. 

Via Unsplash: Tiny house interiors tend to reflect the minimalist ideals of the movement

The interior of a tiny house generally reflects the principles of the movement — minimalistic. This has two purposes. First, it is in line with the anti-consumerist aspect of the tiny house movement as well as the idea of a more community-based lifestyle, and second, it is very practical! When you only have 30sq meters of space, you need to have as little ‘stuff’ as possible. 

Within tiny housing, you may hear about “micro-housing” or more specifically, micro-apartments. These are a relatively new phenomenon and were born out the fact that space in major urban hubs is at a premium. It can be hard to find a room to rent, and so developers started to create self-contained, one-room ‘apartments’ as small as four square metres. They don’t really have the magic of a cabin in the woods and are more reminiscent of pod hotels than the wonders of Walden. In cities like London, you’re probably still better off looking for a room to rent in a regular-sized flat

The Practical Stuff

So, down to the practical aspects of the tiny house movement. The cost and the legality. 

When you’re looking at moving into a tiny house, the cost is going to vary massively depending on what you want and what you need. As mentioned earlier, Amazon is selling flat-pack cabins for less than £5,000 and you can pick up converted vehicles for even less if you do a little digging. Of course, if you have the tools and knowledge you could probably save even more by DIY-ing it from scratch.

Via Pixabay: Tiny houses on wheels can be cheaper and avoid planning permission!

One of the biggest hurdles is going to be the legal and financial ramifications of where to put your tiny house. First, land can be expensive and even mooring fees add up, and depending on where you are, you will need planning permission to build as well as some way to ensure you comply with building regulations.

The tiny house movement has a long and rich history and is currently surging forward hand in hand with broader concerns about sustainability. There are many types of tiny house you can choose from depending on what you need, and despite some of the more practical aspects that could hold you back, they can make for a fantastic place to live!