What the…..

I stumbled upon this article, entitled “The tiny house movement still comes with a sizeable price tag.”

The article left me scratching my head, to say the least.

The author starts off great by comparing McMansions with fast food joints, “On a cost per square foot basis, the typical McMansion may seem like a good deal, but like a Big Mac, what sort of nourishment does it truly deliver?”

That’s the question we asked ourselves when we lived in the city. We had 1,100 square feet, not a McMansion by any means, but we still had enough space in the house to have one bedroom that was completely unused except when we wanted to throw something we didn’t know what to do with in there because our closets were so full.

We had four televisions in the house and enough space to allow us to spend more time with those sets than with each other.

How nourishing was that to our relationship, much less the environment when there was so much wasted/unused space?

He sets up what was seemingly his thesis “But how to convince America’s real estate gluttons that this approach can apply equally to dining rooms as well as dinner?”

And then the piece just gets, well, weird. In short, Greg Beato states that, “A smaller home can help you attain a new level of consumer obsession,” and he goes on to:

· Diss Sarah Susanka, who has written several books on small space living and Jay Shafer, who designs and sells his tiny Tumbleweed homes. Presumably, they really aren’t advocating anti-consumerism because they’re paying their bills by living their own passion – designing and writing about tiny homes.
· Spin off into this tangent: “In a McMansion, you can easily lose sight of the stuff that gives your life meaning because it gets packed away in closets, spare bedrooms, three-car garages. In a tiny house, everything you own is on display. If you’re looking at your kitchen appliances all day, you have a legitimate need for the most gorgeous kitchen appliances known to man. If space is at a premium, you can be forgiven for upgrading to the flattest flat-screen TVs, the most compact washer/dryer combos.”

The most laughable of all, though, is this:

· “A McMansion can almost seduce you into a spartan lifestyle. A big garage means space for a big car, so you don’t have to travel to the grocery store as often. A restaurant-grade kitchen means you’ll eat at home. Your media room will reduce entertainment expenditures.

“Is it any wonder that as houses grew bigger over the course of the past decade, our economy took a nosedive?
Never mistake the small house for a totem of sacrifice. Like Chez Panisse over Olive Garden and Whole Foods over Safeway, the small house proposes less for more as the path to consumer satisfaction.”
Is he trying to use irony? Sarcasm?
Here at Our Little House, We don’t care if we upgrade to gorgeous anything because we’re sitting in the same space staring at it all day rather than stashing it into cabinets or closets.

Functional and making use of what we already have. That’s what we care about.

I cook now more (and better) than I ever did in 17 years with a kitchen twice the size. We are more conscious of our imprint on the world, thinking sustainable (making use of the Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) in every thing we do. I don’t have to go looking for Dale when I want to talk to him or hunt for the dogs in a far corner of the house under unused beds or furniture. We don’t care that our home doesn’t have a home theater and we stay home more now than ever, treasuring the things we have because they are also the things we need/love. Nor do we make unnecessary trips to town because we don’t have room for a lot of groceries.

In short, we’ve learned so much more by living in a small space that we ever dreamed. We’ve truly learned the meaning of Living Large.

I would like to hear your take on this article?

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30 Responses

  1. I guess the author does not understand basic math….by the very nature of being small, small houses have higher per sq foot cost. A basic plywood box standing on end at 4 x 4 x 8 would use 5 sheets of plywood at $30 a sheet, or $150 for 16 sq feet…about $10 a sq ft, add some framing, windows, a door etc…and you can see that the per sq foot price with rise quickly with out any increase in size….Mc mansions are full of Cheap materials…drywall, OSB and acres of carpet compared to solid wood flooring and real wood paneling and trim

    A sheet of drywall cost 6 bucks with the same sq footage of T&G wood paneling costing $60…expand this basic ratio and you clearly have an understanding…at least I do…someone with basic math skills.

  2. I heard Sarah Susanko talk once and her philosphy makes way more sense than this guy’s.

  3. Don’t shoot me, but I had some similar thoughts about how expensive some of these smaller houses are … when I went to a construction site for Natural Home Magazine to watch a prefab one being put into place. BUT, it had more to do with the $$ of the house itself (as in I could NEVER afford that), not the lifestyle that did or did not come with it.

    And, yes, the people who built the house (who were quite rich, by my standards) had all sorts of upgrades inside.

    • kerri says:

      No shooting here, Roxanne. 🙂 I, too, have seen those “green” or “natural” homes that are designed by professional architects and built with all of the bells and whistles and they cost a fortune. However, that is not indicative of what most people in the Small House Movement are building. Most are people such as us, just regular people on medium incomes, looking to live a simpler life and building what we can afford (or afford to finance).

  4. mat says:

    Actually, he kind of has a point. Hear me out.
    One of the things touted by MANY small home manufacturers is that when you’re only dealing with 200 or 400 square feet, you can afford to splurge on the details. I had a conversation with my wife the other night where I said, “You know, if we built a 500 square foot house, we could put the nice granite on the counters, because there’s less of them. We could use Brazilian Cherry on the floors because there’s less of it. And maybe it would cost $25,000, but if you tried to build a “normal” sized house with that kind of luxury, it’d cost so much more. A normal, 2000 square foot house would cost $100,000 to build that way”. Her response was twofold: “Doesn’t that kind of defeat the point of living simply? And we can’t afford either of those scenarios, so it might as well cost $25M to build that little house”. And mind you, my wife has no problem building something small, as long as it meets her needs.
    I see very few manufacturers who work on keeping construction waste and costs to a minimum. I’m not saying that a DIYer can’t do it any way they want, but in order to gain mainstream approval, you’re going to need to make it reasonably easy for people to get a small house. And then, you’re going to have to show them apples to apples. Builders-grade. I don’t see a lot of that.

    • kerri says:

      I actually think you’ve hit the nail on the head with regards to what the writer was “trying” to say, Mat. That’s the only thing that makes sense. I, too, have looked at my counters and thought about upgrading to granite (or something prettier but more eco friendly than what we have) or putting in one of those beautiful eco-friendly backsplashes I’ve seen on the DIY station, because, afterall, I don’t have that much space to cover and it wouldn’t cost nearly as much if it would in my old kitchen. But I think much more to the point is that most people who choose to live in a smaller house, like you and I, don’t have the money (or maybe aren’t conditioned) to splurge or feel we actually “need” those upgrades. I look at it and think it might be nice, but it always comes back to if I NEED those things to be happy. 🙂

      • mat says:

        And that’s the conundrum within this movement. Do you cheap it out, because that’s where it came from? Or do you get the materials you always wanted because you can now afford it? There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of balance–just a lot of expensive extremes in the manufactured sectors. And for someone outside looking in, I think that’s what they see.
        That said, when I do get to build my little house, my wife’s going to make me put a giant soaker tub in it. Because that’s the concession I have to make to get her there. But it means no granite on the counters….

        • kerri says:

          I agree, Mat. As for the tub, I don’t have a giant soaker like we had in our suite we had at the Hilton in Branson last weekend, but I did insist on a regular sized ceramic soaking tub. I had fiberglass in the house in KC and HATED it and it wasn’t designed to lay back and relax. 🙂 We went with basically middle of the road things such as fixtures and floors. Not flashy, but not cheap builder’s grade either.

          • Tanille says:

            Two years ago we took a 1959 360 square foot trailer and rebuilt it ourselves. We did make it beautiful and yes we do have granite countertops, wood floors, beautiful tile, etc. But here’s the kicker – all of it we found on craigslist or habitat for humanity. Every bit of it is “recycled”. Our brand new microwave (still wrapped in plastic) was found on craigslist for practically nothing because a new home owner didn’t want the white appliances that came with the house – they had to have stainless steel. It was important to me that my new home was beautiful and I feel that it is more functional than our 1500 square foot home that we left. We don’t have wasted space and we spend a lot of time here. We now have the most functional kitchen ever – because this one I designed. This can be done inexpensively – it just takes ingenuity.

  5. Brian says:

    “In a McMansion, you can easily lose sight of the stuff that gives your life meaning because it gets packed away in closets, spare bed rooms, three-car garages.” So when did stuff give meaning to a persons life?

    • kerri says:

      I think that in itself brings up a good point, Brian. I believe that people who can live in smaller homes have come to the realization that things do not make us happy. All of us have had to let somethings or many things go and realized our lives are just as full today as they were before.

      • kerri says:

        Your house sounds lovely, Tanille and proves to have the “best” you don’t have to invest a fortune, adding to consumerism and you can do it by getting recycled products!

  6. Sheryl says:

    The only point that the author makes that makes any sense to me, is that the Tumbleweed houses are more $$ per square foot compared to building a McMansion.

    I’m also guessing he’s never visited a small house, so he’s assuming that small house owners live the same way that McMansion folks do: acquiring lots of stuff. I’m guessing he feels that small house owners have too much $$ and can’t spend it freely on “stuff” (lack of space).

    If that’s not what his point is, I’m clueless.
    (And I did have a thought he might be writing tongue in cheek.)

    • kerri says:

      I’m with you, Sheryl. It’s true, some of the prefab tiny homes I’ve seen do cost more per square foot. But I’m not convinced that they aren’t built better than some of the cookie cutter homes builders throw up in a “traditional” suburb.
      I thought the same as you when I read the piece, that the writer hasn’t been to a tiny/small home or spent time talking to the people who live in them. He would then know that we have a different mindset toward “stuff.”

  7. I’m scratching my head at this too. On the one hand, I guess I can see that if you live in a small space you value what you have more since you own fewer things. And the things you own need to be more functional. But I’m not sure it translates to spending more. I’m more apt to believe your approach!

  8. Alexandra says:

    I have lived in two rooms in the city for almost two months now, and it occurred to me just yesterday how we really do not need that much space. At home – count ’em – seven rooms and a cottage and a studio. I especially appreciate the difference in cleaning: less rooms, less time spent vacuuming!

  9. Rhonda Mock says:

    I’ve done everything backwards? Really????
    Rather than downsizing, I should have upgraded?
    Things that make you go Hmmmmmmm………

  10. I’m afraid that like you, I just don’t get what this author is claiming- get a smaller house and you will want to buy more stuff? That makes no sense at all to me. We raised a family in a house 1,700 square feet, not very big especially by today’s standards.

    I was pretty disciplined about regular closet cleaning and trips to Goodwill with items no longer wanted or needed. There were many times I went into my daughters’ closets and also through my husbands side of our closet, and got rid of stuff that I knew nobody was wearing nor would ever wear again. Of all the times I did that, not once did any of them miss the things I “stole” and donated to Goodwill. I always felt the challenge of a small house, was to keep consumer crap to a minimum, not accumulate more of it, so I just don’t get that kind of mentality.

    We moved to the country last summer and our new house is much bigger than the old. But, I hope to maintain the discipline I had to develop in our smaller house, of keeping stuff and clutter to a minimum. We would not have bought such a big house, but I wanted a place where both girls could come home at the same time (hopefully, with grandkids someday) and be comfortable and not feel cramped. I’m keeping my Little House habits in our Big House though. Simplifying, doing with less stuff, always feels much better to me than having lots of consumer goods cluttering up our space, no matter the size of the house.

    • kerri says:

      Thanks, Kathy. I’m glad I’m not the only person scratching my head! I read and reread this several times, kind of like a math problem that you just cannot seem to see from the solving angle. 🙂 I’m relieved to know that it’s the piece that’s wacky and at least in this instance, not me.

  11. Olivia says:

    Wonder where he lives? Maybe he is so gobsmacked by this winter that his brain has seized up? Maybe towering mountains of white snow have caused sensory deprivation and cabin fever has set in. Maybe this winter has convinced him that the end of the world is at hand so all bets are off: say whatever you want cause who cares anymore anyway?

    Oh wait – that would be me. Desperate ravings from the Great WHITE, endlessly white, North.

    Sorry Kerri – WAY TOO MUCH SNOW has driven me round the bend. Figuratively speaking. Literally speaking we can scarcely get outside to drive anywhere anymore ;(

    • kerri says:

      I think this writer lives in California, so maybe it is brain bake! 🙂 I’m so sorry you’re having such a rough winter. I’ll keep hoping for a thaw and that spring comes very soon for you!

  12. V Schoenwald says:

    I read the article and I am scratching my head also??????
    I have taken this article as a very sarcastic view of the tiny home, and that is my opinion. I am not the smartest person but the words point to sarcasm.
    McMansions, you have to heat, cool, and pay taxes on, also upkeep, time, etc. As the utilities get more expensive, you will pay for your “McMansion” square footage.
    It is still a status symbol to have more, bigger, better, but as things start going in the loo, people will maybe get the drift that maybe its “too” much.
    My trailer is about 1200 sq ft, and its too much for me. But I love it, its mine and I enjoy my garden and space.

    • kerri says:

      Thank you, V. I read and reread the article and just didn’t quite get it. Finally, yesterday, I thought it must be a stab at sarcasm.

  13. kerri says:

    Thanks for the tweet, Eva

  1. February 22, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by arianaswitches, Eva Miranda. Eva Miranda said: Living Large In Our Little House , Archive » What the.….: In short, Greg Beato states that, “A smaller home can … http://bit.ly/fFzCcC […]