Downsizing the American Dream – and Imaginary Tiny Living

Downsizing the American Dream

“The desire to have not is a desire of the haves.”

– Walter Kirn

An article called Cabins, the New American Dream appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times Style Magazine. Author Walter Kirn gives a rather tongue-in-cheek perspective of the tiny house movement, commenting that the American Dream has downsized.

Kirn says the tiny house movement has been transformed from an architectural phenomenon “into a broader, philosophical venture that offers homespun remedies for practically all that ails us as people.”

Driven mad by status anxiety? Addled by technology? Bankrupted by consumerism? Then shrink your footprint. Go minimalist. Get free. The Tiny House movement is Woodstock-in-a-bottle, a way to get back to the garden.

I guess I’m one of the people Kirn is gently making fun of. Although I don’t live in a tiny house (defined as 500 square feet or smaller), I do believe that downsizing – in combination with other lifestyle changes – is a way to remedy many of our problems, including status anxiety, feeling overwhelmed by technology and consumerism.

“According to legend, the cabin and the shack are ideal launchpads for remarkable lives, but lately they’ve become homes to aspire to — particularly for overburdened types whose acquisitive binging has made them want to purge.”

– Walter Kirn

Kirn makes an excellent point, though, when he comments that we’re “far more likely to spot a tiny house in a photo than on a plot of land.” Most of us are more interested in looking at photos of tiny houses than in actually living in one.

This seems true for other areas of life as well. How many us regularly cook like Julia Child? But many of those fantasizing over making Boeuf Bourguignon will be inspired to begin cooking basic, nutritious meals for their families instead of relying on highly processed foods.

I wonder how many people who have the tiny-living fantasy go on to downsize, just not as dramatically. I spent my fair share of time drooling over books of tiny homes and small cabins before we downsized to a space roughly half the size of our old house.

So go ahead, keep viewing cabin porn and tiny house porn. Maybe imaginary tiny living will inspire you to make a change too. We love our smaller home and believe downsizing the American dream is part of the path back to the garden.

8 thoughts on “Downsizing the American Dream – and Imaginary Tiny Living

  1. Hello Christy, I think we all need to strive for a right-sized house. To me, that is one where we use every bit of the space. I think there are many homes where that is simply not the case … where entire rooms are seldom if ever used.
    Wishing you well, Carol

    • Or something I noticed when we tour model homes for fun – some rooms have extra space that won’t be used, like those gigantic master baths with 100 empty square feet in the middle of the room. Or living rooms that are far too large even for two separate conversation areas.

    • These are so cute. Remind me of Ross Chapin homes, which I admired when we were thinking of building our own home someday. Which we still may do, but we’re thinking we may (after life in the camper) prefer an apartment in a walkable area. We’ll see.

  2. It’s funny, I’ve never desired a big home. I raised my boys in 840 sq ft, then played around with apartments around 500 before moving to a studio at 300 sq ft. It was the studio I loved the most. I still wish my current land had come with a tiny house/cabin but it wasn’t to be so. My living space in the house is about 800 which still feels huge to me. I dream often of finding a way to make this place smaller, and I could tear down the addition but it would come with a huge price tag as that’s the only place there is running water.

    I think a lot of us dream of a smaller home when viewing images of tiny homes and cabins but even if we wanted to move they are hard to find with the zoning in most areas that outlaw those dwellings.

    Do you still plan to live out of a camper when your children are all adults and on their own?

    • That’s true, about the zoning. Also, most of the ones I see have loft sleeping, and it’s been a long time since I was willing to climb up and down a ladder on a regular basis.

      Yes, we do still plan to live out of a camper, for a year or so, anyway. That’s still more than six years away though, so health or other issues may change our minds – but that’s the current plan. We want to travel the country and that seems like the simplest, cheapest way to do it (well, there are probably cheaper, but not ones we’d like so much!)

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.