When less is more in home building

By Charles Finn EBS Contributor

“Small rooms or dwellings set the mind in the right path, large ones cause it to go astray.” – Leonardo de Vinci

As a builder of tiny homes, I get asked a lot of questions about floor plans and loft heights, using reclaimed materials and composting toilets. All good questions, and all-important things to consider, but here’s what I tell people first.

As a young boy growing up in the small town of Waterbury, Vt., I would sit in the evenings with my family at the dinner table and listen to my father tell stories about his day. My father was town clerk, a mid-level, bureaucratic paper-pusher, and for reasons that escaped me – and still do – he loved his work. I mean loved it.

Time and time again, at the end of some boring story about land titles or tax codes, he’d smile, look around the table at his family and say with true feeling, “I love my job! Just love it.” As a teenager interested in creative writing and the arts, this made no sense to me, but I wasn’t so dense as to let the real meaning of his words escape me.

My father, who made half of what my friends’ fathers’ did, had won. Flat out won. More than any other lesson I learned in my youth, my father’s example of being successful is the one that stayed with me. Whatever I was going to do in life, it was going to make me happy.

Since 1950, the size of an average home in the U.S. has nearly doubled. The same can’t be said for happiness. As our homes have grown, the degree to which they bring fulfillment into our lives hasn’t kept up, and in some cases done the opposite.

The author's cabin in Potomac, Mont., built completely out of reclaimed lumber, metal siding and other materials from Bonner, Mont.’s Heritage Timber. PHOTO BY CHARLES FINN

The author’s cabin in Potomac, Mont., built completely out of reclaimed lumber, metal siding and other materials from Bonner, Mont.’s Heritage Timber. PHOTO BY CHARLES FINN

The tiny house movement, if it can be called that, is a backlash against the status quo, the “Super-size me” mentality that has infected everything from our hamburgers to our houses. One part practical, one part emotional, the idea of owning a tiny house taps into a deep-seated chord in the American psyche that understands having more may in fact mean having less.

Tiny homes, without question, cost less to build, own and maintain. Additional savings accrue when water, heating and power bills are mirrored in their diminutive size. But tiny homes are also affairs of the heart, a desire to live a more ecologically sensitive, intimate, and responsible life.

I’ve never spent more time outdoors than when I lived in a tiny house. I’ve never felt more economically safe or proud either. In this way, the interest in tiny houses is a lot like the back-to-the-land craze of the 1960s and ‘70s. Once again, the idea of the “American Dream” is being called into question.

The definition of tiny is, of course, relative. You can go

The living room of the author’s cabin; it’s diminutive size encourages him to spend more time outside. PHOTO BY TOM ROBERTSON

The living room of the author’s cabin; it’s diminutive size encourages him to spend more time outside. PHOTO BY TOM ROBERTSON

ultra-small as I have, and live in less than 100 square feet, or maybe 400 square feet is more suitable. Either way, a tiny house offers intimacy, cost savings – not the least of which is getting out from under a mortgage – and getting back to a healthy relationship with nature and the outdoors.

My father, a product of his times, may not have fully understood my desire to live in a tiny home, but he would have been proud of me for following my dreams and carving out a lifestyle that reflected my values.

I could be wrong, but I believe each generation needs to learn that contrary to what the popular culture tells us, more is in fact less and less is indeed more. I can say this because in my experience, living in a tiny home hasn’t take away from my happiness, but added to it. In this way, I am proud to say I am very much my father’s son.

Charles Finn is the editor of High Desert Journal and the author of “Wild Delicate Seconds: 29 Wildlife Encounters.” His woodworking and tiny home business A Room of One’s Own can be found at finncharles.wix.com/a-room-of-ones-own.