Tiny houses, while absurd to most American homeowners who have ever tried to move a mattress up a slim staircase or hosted in-laws for a weekend, contradict what we’ve always taught children about hard work. Take the fairy-tale The Three Little Pigs which stresses the importance of determined labor and the perils of inferior craftsmanship. When a Big Bad Wolf—metaphorical, as in tornadoes or sinkholes or aliens, or otherwise, as in an actual giant wolf—wanders into a neighborhood, he’s going straight for those tiny houses as the easiest path to a food source.
While often branded as a social movement for sustainable living, tiny homes have their roots in America’s fascination with escapist culture. Reality television, space travel, Candy Crush on subways, secret forts in the basement—all are forms of escapism for people seeking relief outside the stress and routine of contemporary life. The very frontier spirit of the United States—crossing oceans to live in wilderness, colonies where no one tells anyone what to say or believe—is an escapist philosophy born from our forefathers not wanting to face the hard truths that King George’s monarchy was an expensive and frustrating endeavor to fund. The last frontier? Choosing to live in sub-300 square feet.
Tiny houses harken back to childhood innocence of having a place to hunker down that is manageable and familiar: a treehouse fort, a playhouse in the backyard, a hideout in the basement. These imaginary dwellings offered a reprieve from homework and chores, right up until mom hollered, "Dinner’s ready!"
They’re physically similar, too; just as couch cushions could easily convert into a WWF ring in the basement, tiny house tables can turn into beds. The only way into a tree house was a ladder, which is the most efficient way to climb into the loft bed in a tiny house; both routes result in frequent trips to the emergency room. And while secret hideouts were the perfect Millennium Falcon or Bat Cave to elude the tyranny of mom and dad, tiny houses circumvent the realities of adulthood, terms such as "mortgage" and "second mortgage" and "bank foreclosure"—they are forts for adults who need a secret basement lair without actually moving back home with their parents.
But escapism isn’t just running away from responsibilities; sometimes it means running away from neighbors. Those who choose to live in regular houses are setting down roots with people they must know forever. They have to barbecue together, share sidewalks and utilities, and every time one of their kids is selling some stupid knick-knack or candy bar, it’s considered cheap and rude not to buy at least four.
That’s not the case with tiny house dwellers. If they don’t like their neighbors, or it’s Girl Scout cookie season, they can drive away to a community where an entire new set of friends awaits. Say a snowball fight breaks out in the tiny village. They don’t have to stick around and wonder if someone will cannon an ice ball through one of their four walls, creating a drafty winter. They can just tow the residence to a warmer locale.
Say, while out tending the tiny garden, one accidentally strikes up a conversation with the neighbor mowing her tiny yard and—oops—a tiny affair happens. Time to drive the tiny lifestyle to a community with regular-sized houses where people don’t have the same ethics and judgmental righteousness, and are probably having meaningless affairs all the time.
Did you know the tiny house movement actually began in Manhattan? As the rents went up, people began escaping the reality that they could no longer afford to live here. Rather than move to New Jersey or Brooklyn, they moved into tiny dwellings where 300-square-feet and a 20 percent broker fee was considered a steal. It was a pain to get rid of stuff they no longer could fit in their apartments by dragging it to the curb or selling it on Craigslist, so they stuffed it all in storage units.
The same luxury is available to tiny homeowners should disaster strike. Rates are by the month, and in many cases, storage units will allow owners to live in their tiny houses inside the storage locker until the perceived emergency is over. A tiny storm, such as a regular, mid-week thunderstorm, which regular homeowners don’t even notice if they turn up the TV, could have catastrophic effects on a tiny roof. A tiny asteroid attack (a fireworks display run amok), a tiny zombie attack (two-three zombies at most) or a tiny pandemic (the kid next door gets chicken pox)—no matter the emergency, tiny house dwellers can simply drive their cabins into a storage unit.
But where do we go once the tiny lifestyle becomes so encumbered with children and obligation, once everyone is living in tiny condos, and we just need a unique lifestyle to escape? Perhaps some clever trendsetter right now is innovating an environmentally friendly, ethically sound, uncluttered and simple personal living pod, buried roughly six feet below the earth’s surface, where no one can bother us. Just like the basement.