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Living Large in 150 Square Feet: Why the Tiny House Movement Is Taking Off

Who needs large space when tiny houses are quaint and offer economic and environmental benefits?

Photo Credit: Tiny House Living


Come across one of the many photos of the “tiny houses” circulating on blogs and  Pinterest, and your first reaction will probably be how cute they are — itty, bitty, bite-size domiciles straight out of a fairy tale. Your second reaction, depending on who you are, is either: How do people fit in there? Or simply, why?

Or, for a select group of individuals: How do I get one of my own?

Welcome to the world of tiny housers, people whose choice of living space more or less forces them to embrace the simple life. Many of them live off-the-grid and are of the DIY mentality; they’ve built a community through blogging about their space-maximizing decorating strategies, renting out their homes as novelty hotels (the 165-square foot house pictured above is available on Airbnb) and getting together at tiny house conferences, all while attempting to legitimize their housing choice in the eyes of building codes drawn too narrowly to include their alternative lifestyle.

Ryan Mitchell became enamored with the idea of tiny houses back in 2008, he tells Salon. He’s been an enthusiastic member of the movement since then, blogging about the homes at and publishing a book, out July 14, that functions both as a treatise of the tiny house lifestyle and how-to guide for “building and living well in less than 400 square feet.” On the eve of — at long last — moving into a 150-square home he’s built himself, Mitchell spoke with Salon about the economic and environmental benefits of tiny living. Read on for our interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity, and check out more tiny house photos here.

So to start off, can I ask you how you got involved with this movement — if you do consider it to be a movement?

I do consider it a movement. We’ve seen a lot of growing interest in tiny houses and every time I think it can’t grow anymore, it surprises me — the traffic to our website, the interest that we see, the number of houses being built — it’s just growing, frankly exponentially. We typically see two to three times the traffic every single year.

When I first started this back in 2008, no one ever really heard of tiny houses, they didn’t know what they were, but now it’s almost to the point where you say “tiny houses” and people know what a tiny house is and some general information about it: what the movement’s about, why people do it; they usually have seen a picture or two of these tiny houses and they’re fascinated by them. So in just a few short years we went from not a whole lot of recognition to pretty widespread recognition and then a lot of people taking charge and adopting the lifestyle.

So how I got started was, back in 2008, I was just out of graduate school. I landed my first career job and it was very exciting: It was a good job, I made good money. I was there for about six months, and then one day the owner of the business comes in, Friday afternoon, and says, “I just want to let you know that today is going to be the last day of this company being open, and we’re closing today at 5 o’clock, so everyone can clear out their desks.”

My co-workers and I stood there that Friday afternoon on the curb with our desks in boxes and were just reeling from the announcement that our company was closing, that we were jobless at that point, despite working hard and all that. I realized there wasn’t anything guaranteed, even with working hard and a good education and things like that. This is at the beginning of the recession, and jobs were very difficult to get.

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