What if you said goodbye to the McMansion, man cave and fourth bathroom – and moved into a home that could fit in your garage? Would a minimalist lifestyle ease your anxiety and bolster your bank account? Or would the claustrophobia have you crawling out of your skin?
In a new documentary premiering online today, Australian filmmaker Jeremy Beasley explores the tiny house movement. The film “Small is Beautiful” follows four people in Portland, Ore., at different stages of building and living in their own tiny homes.
How tiny does a house have to be to qualify as a “tiny house”?
Tiny houses must be fewer than 320 square feet, the minimum size for manufactured housing, determined by HUD. They’re hand-built, using primarily wooden beams and constructed on a utility trailer. These structures are mobile but not intended to be driven from place to place. Tiny homes come in all shapes and sizes and Beasley says you can find them all over the world.
The average cost of one of these diminutive homes is around $23,000 and the average size is 186 square feet, according to The Tiny Life, a website focused on the tiny home way of life.
Compare that to the median price of a new home in the U.S. at more than $277,000 as of March, with an average size of almost 2,600 square feet. This infographic has more statistics on tiny homes, but Beasley says for tiny house owners it’s often less about facts and figures and more about all-encompassing lifestyle.
The tiny house movement began in the U.S. about 15 years ago. Beasley estimates there are between 500 and 1,000 people living in tiny homes. He says it’s difficult to get an exact number of tiny home owners in the U.S. and abroad because many live “under the radar.” But he says they share some characteristics: “Freedom is definitely something a lot of people have in common,” he says, “as well as living sustainability and trying to lessen their footprint on earth.”
Beasley says the tiny house movement is significant in a few states, including North Carolina, Texas and Vermont. Their presence is so well-known in Portland that it was parodied by the hit IFC comedy “Portlandia.” While it might be easy to make a good-natured joke about living in small spaces – New Yorkers certainly get their fair share of ribbing for living in “shoeboxes” – the film takes on some weighty topics.
It portrays a behind-the-scenes look at the tiny house movement – addressing some of its characters’ issues with relationships, housing affordability and raises the question of what qualifies as the new American Dream.
Beasley says he began looking for alternative ways to live when he realized he couldn’t afford a 30-year mortgage. He originally planned to take three months to film a short project for his website. But much like the process of building a tiny house, it took much longer than expected – he’s been working on the documentary for two years.
He began by interviewing 15 people currently building or living in a tiny house. He eventually chose four of them – all living in Portland – to feature and spent about seven months filming with each homeowner. One story that stood out to him from the beginning was Karin, who built her tiny house to reduce her cost of living so she could give free medical care as a licensed acupuncturist. “That was just an amazing use of her time and the freedom that a tiny house offers to be able to do something as wonderful as that,” Beasley says.
After all his work, Beasley looks forward to buying his own tiny home in Sydney, Australia.
And how did he come up with the title? “I wanted to explore the idea that smaller could actually lead people down a different path,” he says, “and that perhaps that different path could be beautiful.”
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