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Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Changing Trend in Homes: Going Smaller



When we moved to our current retirement home we discussed what we wanted and what would best suit us. We were living in a three story home with the bottom story being a basement. The square footage was about 1,800 square feet, and it was situated in a large city in Pennsylvania. It was satisfactory to have visitors and family but was a lot of house to keep clean and maintain for two people.

We decided we did not want another large house to keep clean, maintain, heat and cool for just us. It was time to downsize! Our retirement home has 768 square feet and we are not slaves to maintaining a house. We can handle 1 or 2 guests at a time providing we use a pull out sofa bed. It takes some juggling to schedule the single bathroom but it is clearly workable as long as our guests are not bathroom hogs.

Both my wife and I grew up in homes that only had one bathroom and that worked very well. You learn quickly that you have to be considerate to get along with family. We have never considered going smaller, but recently we have been watching a new trend on one of our television channels about tiny homes which we find intriguing.

Tiny Homes

Tiny homes range anywhere from 80 to 400 square feet and are sometimes built on a trailer chassis and sometimes built to go on a more permanent foundation. It is a relatively new concept and if we believe what is being said about the tiny home, its popularity is growing like wildfire. They can go on a small parcel of property and are low impact. Many have composting toilets, and ample windows and a high ceiling make them seem larger and hence not so claustrophobic.

The more recent tiny homes are designed to use every square inch of available space and they have most of the amenities that a larger home would have only much smaller. Tiny home communities are springing up across the country if you are willing to live in a more confined space and community. They appear very comfortable and most of all they are quite affordable.

Check Zoning Requirements

In witnessing people moving into these tiny homes, they appear to really enjoy them. It would be wise to check zoning regulations before going into a tiny home as some states have minimum size standards if put on a permanent foundation. If they are on a trailer and can be moved on wheels, they sometimes are not subject to size limits.

These tiny homes contain all the necessities that a regular-sized home has, but they are condensed into a small area and utilize space far more efficiently. If you add solar power and have a potable water source, coupled with a composting toilet, they would be virtually self-sufficient.


It is an exciting new concept and provides affordable housing for a segment of society that might otherwise not be able to afford same. They are not for everyone, but for those who do want their own home and are willing to live in a smaller space, they are ideal.

Over the years, I have noted that the design features have dramatically improved and the quality has as well. When I lived in Florida I had a three bedroom, two bath home with a formal dining room. I read somewhere, possibly in MOTHER EARTH NEWS, that a formal dining room costs $1,700.00 a year to maintain whether you use it or not.

Now, with the cost of living much higher I would suspect that the cost to maintain a full-sized house versus a tiny home is significant. Our culture tells us that bigger is better, but that is not always true. When it comes to tiny homes, less can be far more sensible and realistic and all you really give up is "stuff" that you rarely use anyway and a little space.

Technological Assists

Modern technology has made tiny homes something worth considering. We used to have photo albums that would take considerable space to store family pictures. Now they can all be stored on a little thumb drive with plenty of room to spare. All those books that took up so much wall space can be contained on a tablet. With slow cookers, you can prepare a meal in a fraction of the space it used to require to make a meal.

When we moved to our present home, we used apartment-sized appliances instead of the full-sized versions we were used to. In 19 years, we have not noticed the size difference.  We thought we were doing good when downsizing to small but these tiny homes take it to an entirely new level. Some of these tiny homes come with a washing machine that also doubles as a dryer, all in a single compact machine.

Tiny Home vs. Conventional Homes

Small homes (like ours) is from 400 square feet to 1,000 square feet. The home construction trend has gone from approximately 1,780 square feet in 1997 to the present average of 2,662 square feet. Average home construction is increasing and that makes owning your own home more difficult for a segment of society.

Ownership of a tiny home or small home is far more realistic for some. Making the move to a tiny home is a definite change from the more traditional mindset that the more living space you have the happier and more comfortable you are. Tiny homes upset that traditional mindset, and people are learning that they can live very comfortably and cheaper by going smaller.

Anyone considering home ownership but doesn’t think they can afford owning a traditional home may benefit from doing a word search on tiny homes. There is an abundance of material on tiny and small homes that may open new avenues for home ownership for some people.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their small home living go to: McElmurray's Mountain Retreat. Read all of Bruce's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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