Tiny Houses Invade Your TV. Should You Be Watching?

Tiny houses seem to be popping up everywhere on television these days. 

Earlier this year, Tiny House Nation debuted on FYI as the first network show dedicated solely to tiny and small homes. This fall/winter, three more contenders have appeared. FYI added Tiny House Hunting to its lineup. HGTV now has its own small scale version of House Hunters called Tiny House Hunters, as well as it’s own house building show, Tiny House Builders, hosted by tiny home personality Derek “Deek” Diedricksen.

I’ve been largely silent on the appearance of these shows because I wanted to see how they would shake out before commenting. 
Firstly, any media attention on tiny houses is great. I’ve been a big fan of the tiny house movement for several years and have long-lamented the absence of tiny homes on any of the DIY-type networks that I watch. Not everyone digs through the internet like I do so for a lot of people this will be their first exposure to the idea of tiny homes. There will be younger folk watching these shows that will be inspired to build their own small homes one day. The hope is that they will be able to do so without the stifling building restrictions that are in place across the country today.
So the exposure is a fan-freaking-tastic for people who are looking for a smaller, simpler, less materialistic, and (debatably) cheaper way of life. You feel a big BUT coming, don’t you?
BUT…I have some issues with the shows. Probably because I have some issues with Tiny House movement in general.

I originally became enamored with tiny houses because I was a single guy trying to get out of debt and wanted to envision a life that wasn’t dependent on making enough to pay for a mortgage and be tied to one job for the rest of my life. And I think tiny houses can be a great answer for people who are looking for that lifestyle….BUT…I’m not single anymore. And though my girlfriend and I have plans for a small house that is still considered “tiny” when compared to the rest of America, the tiny house on a trailer is simply far too small, complicated, and expensive for most couples to really consider as an option.

For couples currently living in tiny houses I truly applaud them, but most seem to be experiments or publicity stunts than anything long term. Many of the tiny house couples I’ve followed online spend about 6 – 12 months on average in their tiny homes before putting them up for sale or for rent and moving into small homes and I’ve often asked myself why that is.

Tiny House Nation features mostly tiny houses built on trailers mainly for the simple fact that building codes across most of the country prohibit building houses smaller than 1500 sq. feet. That is, unless you’re building on a huge piece of property in which case the structure isn’t really considered a “home”. Unfortunately this kind of formula is only a viable option for people with either a lot of time or a lot of money and though the “movement” is great, tiny houses are not a viable solution for the masses.

Tiny House Builders as a show has a lot more personality that the other options purely because of Derek Diedricksen. (Check out his book Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, by the way) It’s worth watching for his commentary if nothing else. The same can be said for his series of YouTube videos which are what originally introduced me into the idea of a tiny house at all.

But what Deek creates, while frugalartisticclever, and whimsical, are not really tiny houses because you can’t really live in them full-time. Sorry, but you CAN’T. They’re really luxury treehouses or backyard getaways for people with large or rural properties. That’s code for rich people by the way. What counts as rich, you may ask? Well I didn’t write the dictionary definition, but people who can afford or were given large swathes of land for starters. Hello. The next category would be people whose combined income is over around 100k. That pretty much disqualifies about 95% of people in my generation, the hinterland of Gen X and Millennials.

Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House Hunting are almost identical in name and concept with a few important exceptions. Admittedly, I’ve seen the first six episodes of Tiny House Hunters while Tiny House Hunting has released only two episodes to date. 

Tiny House Hunters seems more willing to show people looking for what I consider to be “small” homes, that is, homes from around 500 to 1000 sq. feet. Still considered tiny in today’s society, I think homes these sizes are the real X factor in the tiny house movement that will change how we look at our homes, mortgages, and number of possessions. 

Tiny House Hunting, the two episodes I’ve watched anyway, are concerned with the part of the tiny house movement that gets the most press, but does the most damage in my opinion: well-to-do couples with well-to-do incomes looking for tiny houses as a kind of posh new accessory. They tend to live in chic metropolitan environments or are looking for a “glamping” style of luxury on their rural property for the weekends. 

While this idea seems parallel to the tiny house movement, they appear to me to be displays in missed opportunities such as talking about minimalism or a clutter-free lifestyle, financial independence, and urban gardening. Reconnecting ourselves to systems we’ve become removed from like living in homes built in part with the labor of our own two hands. 

Another facet of the movement that always seems to get glossed over on these shows is green living. Mentions of solar power or clean energy are rare and composting toilets are only used if there’s a lack of more convenient options for instance. The people that look for or build these homes seem to have limitless funds to create tiny versions of their endlessly-convenient lifestyles. Everyone on these shows want a kitchen as large as one you find in a 2500 sq. foot home. It seems the only thing they’re willing to sacrifice are the three-car garages.

These shows are great as inspiration, but the tiny house movement, for me, has always been about financial independence and simplicity. The ability to remove the biggest paycheck-suck of our lives from the equation, our housing expenses, and focus on following our own paths that shouldn’t lead merely to a paid-on-time-mortgage and catalog lifestyle.

The Tiny House Movement is here to stay and only going to grow from here. It’s my hope that these early entries on television will help to spread the message to every corner of the country, even though some of the more important points may be lost in translation along the way.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, so let your thoughts be known!

One Response to “Tiny Houses Invade Your TV. Should You Be Watching?

  • Couldn't agree more James! I watch these shows on a fairly regular basis and it's a topic near and dear since my hubby and I downsized to a smaller home a few months ago. BUT, when I see the tiny homes being purchased or built compared to where some of these folks lived, I think it is unrealistic and too drastic of a change. I would love to see a follow up to see if the people continued living in their tiny home! I opted for MUCH SMALLER, not tiny. My husband and I (and our pets) have just enough room. There is much to be said for consciously choosing to declutter, downsize, payoff debt and intentionally live a simpler life – no tiny house needed!

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