Fuelled by housing crises the world over, the development of tiny houses is on the rise. Built by some but bought by others, from city centres to ‘out in the sticks’, an increasing number of people are turning to micro-living for financial independence, a minimalist lifestyle, and freedom too, if it’s on wheels. But if it is the next big thing that journalists and experts have proclaimed it to be, what does the shrinking of the homespace mean for the wellbeing of its inhabitants?
Proponents of the micro-living movement see tiny houses as offering the life of simplicity and the spare change needed for hobbies, interests and adventures that more and more of us desire. As they explain, people are increasingly looking beyond material goods as a source of happiness and status and are instead turning to experiences. However, homes are not just functional spaces – they are central to our self-expression too, and material objects are key to the way we construct our social, cultural and psychic worlds. While some may feel their home suitably reflects their identity and their values, others may still experience a sense of constraint by the limited living space. But tiny living alternatively encourages meaning to be found outside, rather than inside – particularly for those that are in rural areas. Due to their size, these homes are seen to inspire their inhabitants to more fully incorporate the outdoors into their daily routines and their lives, leading them to find a deeper connection to the natural world and live a life of adventure. In particular, environmental sustainability, which in recent years has grown in popularity as a way of life and a source of identity, is central to the frugal and localised culture of micro-living.
Moving into a tiny house is also likely to influence relationships and connections with other people, which is widely acknowledged as being a foundation of our mental health and wellbeing. The US, which is widely seen as being the epicentre of this phenomenon, is home to an increasing number of tiny housing communities, and they are beginning to pop up in other places around the world too. Here in the UK, the 'Tiny House Community Bristol' project is looking to establish sites in the West of England where residents live in small collectives of tiny homes, use communal areas to work, socialise, and grow food together, and share cars, bikes and other facilities. With our engagement with our neighbours in decline and loneliness continuing to effect so many of us, this sense of community could be something that we all really need.
But while these smaller spaces may promote healthier relationships with those that live next door, micro-living could be potentially damaging for more intimate relationships. Tiny houses are seen as a response to the housing insecurity of single adults in cities, but as Ella Harris and Mel Nowicki explain, it only exacerbates their situation as “micro‐living properties don't offer the space to start families or conduct long‐term relationships easily". As studies have found, the lack of privacy when living with others in such small spaces can lead to a whole range of issues, such as stress, poor relationships, psychological withdrawal, depression, and behavioural problems.
But despite these potential drawbacks, for some, it is their only opportunity to live independently, be free from debt, or even to escape homelessness.