Mad in Pursuit Notebook

Tiny Houses

Stuff Shaming and the Tiny House Movement

Sept. 2, 2016. In an economy powered by consumerism, it's been great sport to shame hoarders on TV. Now we've moved on to the glorification of Tiny Houses. The cool counter-culture is about a certain kind of "de-cluttered" rootlessness. If you must own a house, make it as tiny and as ship-shape as a small yacht.

Who doesn't envy that? Who doesn't understand "closets full, nothing to wear"? Who isn't overwhelmed by stacks of paper and unread magazines? Who doesn't contemplate arson when all your furnishings go gray with dust because you're too damn busy living life to clean?

Jim and I are downsizing from a spacious and thoroughly stuffed condo to an airy log cabin (with a finished basement, so it's no tiny home). I've been gorging on videos about Minimalism and Tiny Houses for inspiration. I hit on a streak of TEDx talks on "living more with less." Their stories all have the same plot: "I made a lot of money and lived in a McMansion. I wasn't happy. Got rid of it all, built a tiny house, and now live for experience not for stuff. So should you." They present a one-act play, a redemption story.

There is never any second act. No "and then the shit really hit the fan" twist. They don't explore the psychological and spiritual implications of living with five pieces of clothing, a two-cubic-foot refrigerator, a composting toilet, and a highly constrained water supply. There has to be a deep spiritual element or they could have moved to the myriad near-tiny houses in urban neighborhoods, with a patch of yard, a basement, and a garage.

They could have bought an RV.

As presented, the Tiny House strips you down to the essentials and less -- makes you live like an anchorite, in your wee cave. But is the movement really about size? I think it's about beauty and functionality. People who have "seen the light" don't want to live in chip-board and plastic mobile homes. They aren't the ones who rehab the teensy St. Louis houses where working-class families raised seven kids in the 1950s. They want their own creations -- perfect machines, each element working in harmony, no waste, no dusty corners, no lost space. A place for everything and everything in its place. They are still successful people, people who want it all.

It's a seductive vision. If you're a fan of "The Velveteen Rabbit," you know that "stuff" comes alive only when it's well-used. Forgotten toys are dead. Rooms without lively purpose are tombs. We wear these lives like the dead albatross around the neck of the ancient mariner. "Yes!" we say, "Shrug off the dead beast and live again!"

On the other hand, I keep asking myself: what do Tiny House people DO inside their perfect machines, beyond fetching water, emptying the composting toilet, and de-cluttering? Where do they store their musical instruments, their skis, their sewing machines, their tools? If they were slaves to their stuff, are they now slaves to their Chinese puzzle box house, where water, power, waste management, even land rights, can never be taken for granted?

I've lived in cramped spaces. I left the large house of my first marriage for a 300 sq. ft. apartment and set up a pre-computer graphic arts business in a 6x6 corner of it. Years later, when I moved in with Jim, I downsized my personal belongings from a 600 sq. ft. condo to a 12x12 room that still had cabinets full of his stuff. I know the procedure. The liberation is psychological, not physical. And even then, life is still about the stuff you require to live it. But now everything is stored in layers. Your puzzle is how to reduce the number of moves it takes to find something you need that's tucked away in its perfect little hidey hole.

So I want to hear the next wave of TEDx talks, the 3-act play. Act 1: Personal sprawl hits a crisis point. Act 2: Give it all up for a dollhouse on a vacant lot, where complication after complication leads to despair. Act 3: Revelation that it's not about the stuff. It's about you and your ability to live wholeheartedly in the world in proper relation to stuff.

Okay, I've said enough for today. Back to scanning files for my "paperless" goal...

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Books by Susan Barrett Price:

THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) Thailand: lovers of ancient treasure tangle with international black markets. Delia Rivera pulls Martin Moon back into the game and their quest turns deadly. In paperback and Kindle editions.

TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) Time after time, Mary asks herself: Do I go or do I stay? She finds her power in her ancestors: Smart women turn discontent into action. An illustrated memoir in paperback and Kindle editions.

PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008) The twin forces of revenge and redemption drive Nellie MacKenzie and Taylor Jackson on a crazed adventure into the heart of Central Asia. They grapple with issues of ethics, trust, rage, and bitter heartbreak -- as well as the intrigue of the international antiquities trade. In paperback and Kindle editions.

 

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