Super Downsize Me

New Documentary Looks at the Tiny House Movement

While American homes have grown larger and larger over the years on average, a small group has decided to buck that trend to live tiny. Really small. As in, under 200 square feet small.  A new film, ‘TINY,’ which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin last week, takes a look inside this movement while chronicling the story of one man’s adventure building his own diminutive home.

With a lot of elbow grease and some instructional help from YouTube (along with some funding from Kickstarter), filmmaker Christopher Smith set out in the spring of 2011 to build his own tiny, 124 square foot house for a plot of isolated land in Colorado. While he originally budgeted three months for the build, it ended up taking him a year.

The advantages to such a tiny home? Adherents in the documentary say they can live nearly debt-free (the director estimates his own tiny house cost him $26,000), along with low power bills and taxes. They say they’re doing it more for peace of mind and money as opposed to environmental reasons.

For one of the leaders of the tiny house movement, it’s more of a philosophy than a strict code.

“A tiny house is just a house where all the space is used well,” small house designer Jay Shafer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House company says. He lives in a 500 square foot home with his wife and two kids (a larger abode than his previous sub-200 square foot home). “In America, we like our houses like we like our food,” he says in the film. “Big and cheap.”

Most tiny homes have to be built on wheels and trailers, as building codes often mandate a minimum size for structures. Common features include a loft bedroom, multi-functional furniture and storage, and an absence of clutter.

Most of the people featured in the film don’t have children living with them (yet most seem to have pets), and whatever drawbacks there are (a lack of personal space, no room for entertaining or for guests to stay, little to no storage, etc.) get glossed over in the film. It takes an evangelical approach to the tiny house movement without delving into some the readily apparent drawbacks of living in a house so small. That said, the ‘tiny housers’ featured in the film seem content with their dwellings and opt-ing out of a culture of consumption.

The movement hasn’t skipped by Texas, either — you can learn more about Texas tiny houses here.

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