Redefining Tiny: Housing and Millennials

I suppose you could say we are here to discuss the housing market.

But don’t fret, there will be no talk of subprime mortgages or the groan-inducing US housing crash of the early 2000s. Instead we’re looking at the most recent housing fascination to sweep the world: we’re going tiny, my friends.

The Rise of Tiny

A tiny house is a fully functioning domicile, typically somewhere between 100-400 square feet. Juxtapose that with the 2,600 square feet of the average American home, and you can see why this social movement has captured the imaginations of homeowners and renters the world over.

On top of the sheer cuteness factor, tiny houses are so appealing to would-be homeowners because they are more affordable than traditional houses, have a reduced carbon footprint, can be easily transported to a new location, and are comparatively simple to construct.

An estimated 10,000 tiny houses dot the US landscape to date, and most of those have been built in the past five years. One theory for the quick uptick in tiny is that millennials became disillusioned about traditional homeownership after watching their parents struggle with high mortgage interest rates and foreclosures in the last housing crisis, as a result they simply opted to build their own affordable homes instead. Of course, now that we’ve had a few years for the initial exuberant obsession to wear down, we’re starting to hear about some of the pitfalls of the tiny house movement.

Tiny Headaches

Just because it’s tiny doesn’t mean it’s immune to the mundane frustrations that any house imposes upon a homeowner.

Tiny house on wheels

Photo via Country Living, from Garett & Carrie Buell of

The first problem to cause a real fuss for tiny home owners was that once their homes were built, they had trouble finding a place to put them.

23-year-old Sarah Hastings built her tiny home while attending college in Massachusetts, but she ran into all sorts of problems with the community when she started looking for a place to put it. First, someone reported her for violating the town’s zoning ordinances and after that her proposal to change the laws was voted down in a town meeting.

According to Hastings, the townspeople were afraid that their little town would be overrun with tiny houses – driving down property values – and that’s why they voted down her proposal. It does seem like a reasonable concern on their end; a college town full of itty bitty houses could easily become a ghost town when the students graduate and leave their little houses behind.

Of course, not all students are transient and not all tiny houses will be abandoned, but needless to say, the townspeople aren’t being completely irrational.

Not every town is as unreceptive to tiny homes as Hastings’ town. Some cities are actually embracing the tiny house movement by adjusting zoning laws and clarifying code requirements. They hope that tiny homes could be a solution for low-income families and the homeless. Getting there won’t be easy though. Building codes have been around since 1750 B.C., but unfortunately they’ve become a bit of a stumbling block for tiny home builders. Without legal alteration of building and zoning codes, tiny home owners are forced to define their domicile as either an RV or an Accessory Dwelling Unit (like a mother-in-law apartment). And because a tiny home is in reality neither of these things, many tiny homeowners find themselves fudging the truth and bending the law to get what they need.

What it Means

The frustrations of the tiny house movement reveal a struggle that speaks to the millennial predicament: We feel the urge to rebel against the structures that have failed generations past, but we don’t want to completely reject the frameworks.

We’ll bend the rules if we’re forced to, but we’d much rather redefine them.

We’d much rather make them tiny.

Author: Brooke Faulkner is a freelance writer and mother of two. Her career ambition is to own a treadmill desk.