Tiny home
Image credit: Ben Chun, Creative Commons

On a one acre plot in Bristol a collection of tiny houses will soon be springing up. This looks set to be the site of the UK’s first tiny homes community and as well as the self-sufficient homes there will be shared electric cars, allotments, an eco-launderette and a co-working space. This way of living could help to reduce climate change and potentially create a happier, more social community, co-founder of the Tiny House Community Bristol, Rachel Butler told local news site, Bristol 24/7.

The tiny homes movement began in America at the turn of the century but really picked up after the financial crash of 2008 and is now spreading globally. At just 100 to 400 square feet these homes are drastically smaller than the US average home size of 2600 square feet and much closer in size to a typical hotel room. In many cases they are self-constructed, off grid and can be moved when necessary. As in Bristol, people often live in communities of other tiny house dwellers. A good number of the houses come on wheels, if you want to move to a new area you simply pack up and take your house with you.

The movement has a growing number of dedicated followers including no less than three popular TV shows and a website – The Tiny Life – providing all the info you need to get started. Should you wish, you can now even buy a ready made tiny home from Amazon, Women’s Health mag reported last week.

Response to consumerism and climate change

But this is more than a style trend. For many it’s a political statement and a rejection of the rampant consumerism driving western lives. The people building or buying these tiny homes are “concerned about life simplification, environmental consciousness, self-sufficiency and sound fiscal plans,” the Tiny Life website says.

It goes without saying the bigger the home, the bigger the carbon footprint. Building it, heating it, running all the appliances within its walls and filling it up with all our stuff all takes its environmental toll. The average American’s annual carbon footprint is more than five times the global average. The UK alone is responsible for 13 per cent of global emissions.

Somehow we always expand into the size of house we live in – all those extra cupboards, attics and spare rooms very quickly get choked up with clutter without you even noticing. In a tiny home this isn’t possible – there simply isn’t enough space for all that stuff advertisers persuade us we need every year.

And there’s evidence this approach to life could benefit your wellbeing as well as the planet. A study by the University of Arizona recently found that buying less actually makes us happier than simply switching to eco-friendly products.

Sabrina Helm, associate professor in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said the key take-home message from the study for consumers “is to reduce consumption and not just buy green stuff. Having less and buying less can actually make us more satisfied and happier.”

“If you have a lot of stuff, you have a lot on your mind,” she said. “Maybe you have a lot of debt because you bought all that stuff, and now you have to manage all that stuff. It requires maintenance and being organised. It’s not like you buy it and you’re done with it. There’s a lot of burdens of ownership, and if you relieve yourself of that burden of ownership, most people report feeling a lot better and freer.”

Many tiny home dwellers agree that this feeling is precisely what they’re after. Downsizing not just their house but their lives is what is attractive about this way of life.

Some have dismissed the people choosing to live in tiny homes as “hipsters playing at being poor,” and there have been genuine concerns raised about providing shipping containers for homeless people or posing tiny living spaces as a solution to the very real housing crisis. But there is no doubt that the climate crisis will require us all to reduce our carbon footprint. Swapping to bamboo toothbrushes and shampoo bars will only take us so far. Ultimately we need to consume less, and living a simpler, and perhaps happier life in a smaller home can help us to do just that.

As the climate crisis threatens to displace millions from their homes (16.1 million people were forced to leave their homes last year and by 2050 estimates suggest there could be between 100 and 200 million climate refugees) there is something symbolic and perhaps even hopeful about citizens of the western world choosing to downsize theirs.