How Do You Know If You Should Move Into A Tiny House?

By Billy Ulmer, author of the Life in a Tiny House ebook.

A "normal" house, then and now

Do you wonder if you should move into a tiny home? Choosing where to live is a big deal, and feels like an even bigger one when what you want to do isn’t a common or popular choice. But while it’s hard to make an unlikely decision (as I wrote about last week), you have more options than you think, and you can make an informed choice between them.

Since you’re aware of the tiny house movement at all, good news! You already know about more housing options than a lot of people, and that’s a great place to start. Just keep looking at diverse housing types, and keep asking what you really want out of life and out of a home.

You Have Options

Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Decisive”, about how to make better decisions, gives a great cautionary tale about what can happen when the decision we need to make is completely up to us:

“A woman from Alabama dreams of visiting Italy. One year she has the chance to go, but postpones the trip because of responsibilities at work. Time slips by, and she often thinks of Italy, but years turn into decades, and eventually her health deteriorates to the point where she can’t make the trip. When, exactly, did she ‘choose’ not to visit Italy? Was it every day? Or never?”

Ouch, right? No matter what your dream is, don’t let this happen to you.

The Heaths suggest using “tripwires” to alert yourself when you’re operating on mental “auto-pilot” – as though there are no options, and you’re doing the only thing you can do. Feeling trapped by only one or two choices is incredibly frustrating, but almost the end of the story. According to the Heaths, tripwires remind us that, “our current trajectory need not be permanent,” and that we do, in fact, have choices.

I think the tiny house movement itself has become a tripwire for conventional home culture. People are fascinated and charmed by tiny home on wheels, in particular – they’re so familiar, but so foreign. And they may not motivate people to move into one immediately, but they often inspire deep thoughts about the benefits and burdens of traditional homes.

The tiny house movement is changing the conversation about housing in America, creating hope and possibility for people who once felt trapped between renting an apartment or buying a home. It highlights many different options – tiny homes, accessory dwellings, mobile homes, floating homes – and that variety gives people a better opportunity to find something that fits their needs.

Modern ADU

Alex and Allison built a 320 square foot accessory dwelling for themselves after exploring a few different kinds of “alternative housing.” Allison first lived in intentional communities and cohousing, searching for her desired balance of private space and community interaction. So when she finally chose small housing, it was an educated decision based on her unique priorities.

Which Option Matches What You Value?

“Decisive” also introduced me to the idea of “opportunity cost,” the boring economic term for the vital idea that choices involve trade-offs. We can put our limited time, money and energy into anything we want, but whatever choice we make means giving up something else.

Say you could rent an apartment within walking distance of your job for $1,000 a month…or you could rent an apartment with a 30 minute commute to work for $700 a month, and buy a car with a $300 monthly payment. The cheaper place that requires a car is the opportunity cost of the $1,000, walkable apartment.

There are two tricks here:

  • While we’re deciding where to live, we might not be thinking of all the options. We might be stressed about moving, and just want to pick the first decent place we find, even if there are better options we don’t know about yet.
  • If we’re not really thinking about it, it’s easy to make the decision that looks good instead of the one that really supports our lives. Maybe we’d pick the one that looks like where we grew up, or where we wish we’d grown up. But look past the appearances, and ask questions about how you want to live: Is it important to you to live close to work or friends? Would you hate your commute, or love having a car for weekend adventures? There’s no “right” choice, just what’s right for you.

The Heaths point out that merely being reminded that you have multiple options can help you make a more informed decision. In one study, 20% of people changed their mind about a theoretical purchase simply because they were reminded that they could also spend their money on something else. They offer these simple prompts you could ask during any decision to keep your options in mind: “What are we giving up by making this choice? What else could we do with the same time and money?”

Kenny and Esther's tiny house new mexico
Kenny and Esther’s Tiny House

Knowing what’s important to you is the other piece of the puzzle, because it’s how you choose between opportunities. When I visited Esther in the tiny house she built with her husband Kenny, they seemed to have chosen their tiny home after carefully considering their priorities. They wanted to live in a really nice house, but the opportunity cost of a large house would have been the jobs they enjoy and the flexible schedules they value, and that was a cost they weren’t willing to pay. Once they found out that tiny houses existed, they discovered an option that aligned with what was important to them: nice housing for a low cost.

If you’re interested in small housing, ask yourself what you’re really in it for. Not just in housing – in life. It’s easy to say that all you want in life is long vacations, ample free time, and a nice home, maybe with a view of the water from the hot tub on your deck. But since we’re usually making choices with trade-offs, which need (or two, or three) is most important? The ample free time? The view? The hot tub? Each one might call for a different home.

Look Outside Yourself for Options, and Inside Yourself for Priorities

Every photo you see of an inspiring little home represents an option you could investigate further. Tiny home fans are usually interested in the movement because they want to devote less money, time and energy to their housing save it for something they value more. The questions really are: what do you value, and what type of home supports that?

For more stories about how real people like you decided a tiny home was right for them, check out the Life in a Tiny House ebook.

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