Tiny Purpose

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I can’t find the high school’s tiny house without looking further. This is 750 square feet of luxury living in eastern Gunnison County; yours (plus 35 acres) for $125,000.

Lynn and I devoted a little over an hour last night to watching tiny houses get built on TV, and I have to say I don’t get what all the fuss is about.

The overall price may seem “reasonable,” by which I mean an amount one could have used 20 years ago to buy an entire four-bedroom house in Gunnison or — based on another show we like to watch, Home Town — 2,000 square feet today in Laurel, Miss. But factored on a per-square-foot basis, these miniature houses are ex-pen-sive.

Admittedly, the show we watched was called Tiny Luxury Homes, or Luxury Tiny Homes, or Tiny Homes of Luxury, or something with the word “luxury” in there (Homes of Tiny Luxury?), and in the two complete episodes we saw, these “homes” appeared to be functioning as travel trailers rather than the only home the owners were going to occupy (the partial episode appeared to showcase the man’s sole domicile), so perhaps we were just watching The Privileged spend money same as they would on an RV.  Although it looks a lot clunkier and probably drives that same way as these folks roll down the road, probably getting passed by those pulling Airstreams.

We here in Gunnison County are rather anti-tiny house. The town council in Crested Butte a year or two ago took action against one of their own, putting a cease-and-desist order on a (possibly ex-) council member who was busily building an unpermitted tiny house in his backyard.

The county similarly shut down a man in the townsite of Irwin, up above Crested Butte, It wasn’t so much about the size, but apparently no matter how big or small, you have to have an approved septic system. No composting toilets allowed.

I think the City of Gunnison has or had a minimum size requirement for building on a lot, although at one point there was discussion in taking that requirement down, possibly to 400 square feet. But not too many people have seemed interested: our innovative high school industrial arts teacher, Wyatt Phipps, had his students build a tiny house one year, thinking they could sell it and use the money to build another the next year. Many years later, I’m pretty sure the tiny house, despite a listing by a local real estate company, still resides at the high school.

Over the hills to the north, in the Land of Aspen and Vail, one if not two counties have completely embraced tiny houses as a means of providing “affordable” housing for the people who work and are trying to live in Pitkin and Eagle counties.

[Don’t get too confused, but the tiny town — with mostly large houses — of Pitkin is in Gunnison County, just up the road from where Tia’s house will be, and it’s the city of Aspen that occupies Pitkin County.]

I guess Gunnison County, despite the mounting costs of real estate, is not in the Aspen boat yet, and I did read an argument in one of our local papers, perhaps last week, that we really have more affordable housing already on hand than we’re ever likely to need. (Just reporting what I read, not what I agree with.) Which means my tiny house experience is likely to remain on my TV set.

Lynn will attest that with every half-hour I watched, I got more agitated and indignant. As grown people are crawling on hands and knees to access a king-size (!) bed in their tiny loft, I notice that this is all the loft has room for: a giant bed and several windows, including a skylight.

There is no under bed storage. There is space on either side of the bed to crawl along it, but not for a dresser, box, or suitcase. No hanging bar for clothes. Do these people just wear the same thing every day? That seems luxurious.

One house, under construction for a man and his two young sons, boasted a breathtaking 12 square feet of storage under a living-area bench for the kids to put all their soccer and basketballs. Soccer and basketballs take up a lot of space, unless you want to deflate them between uses.

And then, because it’s television, the builders stage these 200-ish-square-foot houses, and rather than cram every shelf full like you know it’s going to be, they place one dainty item. It looks great on TV, but how is anyone supposed to function?

One couple, who piqued my interest because their company turns old clothing into yarn, which they knit into new clothing like socks [I had Emily, who used to work at Pat’s, knit a beanie out of old t-shirts, but it was way too labor intensive on our scale to ever be practical, so good for this couple for figuring it out] wanted a work space in their house while they’re dragging it around the country (probably getting about two miles to the gallon in whatever behemoth vehicle one needs to pull a house around).

The builders proudly gave these two people a “table” perhaps 18 inches front to back and a bookcase half the size of the one I’m building (staged with little plants, one per hollow), and somehow this will function as an executive office for two busy people. What are the rest of us wasting all our office space on?

One of these houses — after awhile, they all started to blur — wanted an outdoor space for entertaining, which you might as well, because even the illogical man who wanted to go from 3,100 square feet to 300 to better entertain his friends seemed to understand that most of your living has to happen outside your tiny house rather than in it. So this outdoor space was filled with a TV in a watertight compartment on the side of the house, plus two overstuffed (indoor) chairs, a rug and a couch. Don’t forget the barbecue grill.

My question: where do you put all this stuff while you’re driving down the road? There’s absolutely no way you can fit that in the available 10 feet inside the house. Do you pile it on top for that Beverly Hillbillies look? What could possibly say “luxury” more than that?

Somewhere in the last year I read an article about a family of four who is discovering that attempting to lower their environmental footprint by living in a tiny house has actually expanded it in many ways. Because 12 square feet of storage doesn’t turn out to be particularly functional, once winter ends this family finds itself selling or giving away all winter clothing — only to have to buy new once the calendar rolls around. Good for the economy, perhaps, but not really the environment.

Even if one eschews consumerism and all its encumbrances, you probably still would like at least one change of clothes (the people you come in contact would like that as well) and a pot or two for cooking. Given all the large TVs that find their way into these contraptions, anti-consumerism doesn’t seem to be the point of “luxury” tiny house living.

Which brings me back to: I don’t understand the point. I get it in Aspen: it’s just the modern-day version of a trailer park. For People of Money, though, it seems like a silly, impractical fad. I hope it fades soon. Or at least that I manage to find better TV to watch.

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