Idea File: Would you live in a tiny house to help the environment?

The idea

The average home size in America is roughly 2,000 square feet. The average tiny house is less than one quarter of that size.

Tiny houses are literally what you might imagine: miniature dwellings complete with everything you need to live. (Think the adult version of a doll-house.) While most common in the U.S., tiny houses are gaining in popularity around the world, and can be found in countries from England to Japan.

The size may be less, but the options are many. You can buy a pre-fab home, or build your own. You can use straw, or wood. You can opt for a modern style, or a rustic one. Regardless of how you go about it, everyone who lives in a tiny house will agree: Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Ecologically sustainable. Tiny houses not only use less materials, but often try to be as ecologically sound as possible, from energy to water to light.
  • Increases self-awareness. The design is completely in your control. Every single decision has to be considered, which makes you examine how your choices align with your personal philosophy and needs.
  • Frees up time. Forget spending your weekends organizing the basement or mopping your kitchen. Smaller square footage means not only less clutter, but less time spent on the drudgery of cleaning, and more time to dedicate to family and friends, your hobbies and passions.
  • Intellectual challenge. Most tiny house advocates find there is a certain draw and excitement about making a small space perfectly functionally efficient.
  • Freedom of mobility. Tiny houses are often on wheels, and no matter where you are in the world, you always have a place to come home to.

How you can replicate it

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Portland, OR is one of the leading cities in the tiny house movement. (Photo from nicolas. boullosa via Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

Herbalist Karin Parramore in Portland, Oregon has recently started to build her own tiny house. As someone who’s always loved small things – her first doll named Tiny was two and half inches long – and traveled all over the globe, the idea of a miniature dwelling was immediately appealing.

Her future home will be built on wheels and include recycled materials. It will have solar power, an alcohol stove, electrical heater, and clear cabinets so she can see what she does and doesn’t use. For Karin, it aligns with her core values about ecological sustainability and fits with her nomadic lifestyle.

It’s been a three-year-process, from which she’s learned a lot from. Here’s what she has to say about building your own tiny house:

Philosophy

  1. Consider your relationship with personal space. From living all over the world, Karin has seen that there are radically varying ideas about what personal space means. Before you begin, examine your relationship with personal space, and know your limits. If you don’t like little spaces, then little spaces aren’t for you.
  2. Be willing to confront your philosophies. “It’s easy to say you believe in this or that,” Karin says. “But when you’re making the decision to live that philosophy, it really takes facing it head on and asking, Is it true? Do I really believe this? Is this how I want to live my life?”
  3. Set a minimum. Stop and reflect a moment. If there are amenities you absolutely have to have, or a certain amount of square footage to make you feel comfortable, it helps to know that from the beginning.
  4. Be open to the possibility of tossing physical memories. Some people give their memory boxes to family to keep. Others, like Karin, pick and choose which photos, objects, etc. to discard.

Building

  1. There’s always an answer to a problem. Because so many people have done this before you, there are a ton of ideas for you to steal. Don’t know what to do with your waste from the toilet? Try worm composting. Concerned about how to do laundry? Look into the Wonderwash. Perplexed about bathing? Consider a Japanese soaking tub, where you can store stuff when not in use.
  2. Know your zoning laws. Laws vary from state to state, county to county. Oregon, for example, prohibits dwellings less than 200 square feet. But because this is still a bit of a gray area, it’s a good opportunity for you to help influence the legal process from the start.
  3. Talk to your neighbors. To help lessen the chances that a neighbor will cause problems, go around and knock on doors to make sure there aren’t any issues.
  4. Don’t let cost deter you. Depending on what you want to do and your time constraints, expenses can range from next to nothing (if you use salvaged materials) to thousands of dollars.
  5. If you build it they will come. Karing found that once she started telling people about her idea, offers to help came out of the woodwork from friends, family, and the ever-growing tiny house community. Don’t be daunted by zero building experience; there are lots of resources already available from video blogs to networking events to books.

“This is my solution to despair about the state of the world,” Karin finally says.”It’s selfish. I want to feel better. I don’t want to feel like I’m hopelessly watching the world devolve. This is my way of remaining hopeful.”
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Interested in building a tiny house of your own? Feel free to reach out to Karin for advice: herbalearn@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

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Idea List: Plastic boats, pop-up homes, and more

My job at Idealist is to see how the collective “we” can get more good ideas into the brains of more people.

What do I mean when I say “good ideas?” Sometimes you just instinctively know. Cell phone: good idea. Vibrating bra? Bad one.

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Image by Arthur Buliva under CC-SA licence (via Afrigadget)

But lately I’ve been studying solutions or projects that are proving to work, and that might be replicable around the world. Here are some I came across recently that made me want to clap my hands and do a little dance:

  • A man in Kenya uses tourist’s discarded plastic bottles and old slippers to construct a boat (AfriGadget)
  • Valentine’s Day phantoms spread love throughout a city in Maine (GOOD Magazine)
  • H.I.V. clinic in Canada allows drug addicts to inject themselves under nurse supervision (NY Times)
  • A Virginia company creates pop-up mobile homes to assist seniors with family managed health care  (Springwise)
  • Pink sari clad vigilante women in India crack down on men who’ve abused their wives (Women Make Movies)

Did you read, see, or experience something lately that you think deserves more attention, and maybe a copycat or two? Leave a comment below so we can add it to the next idea list!

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