Apr 15, 2017

From the glory days of Pompeii to the age of home shopping and reality TV, living large has always had a viciously seductive, almost mythical allure. Homes are the obvious measures of taste and power, the “guardians of identity,” as philosopher Alain de Botton would call them. Realistically though, they are also reminders of mortgage payments, utility bills, taxes, and every other expense looming ominously behind a home’s well-curated décor.

Last year, in a highly documented climactic shift in collective fantasy, the United States saw a renewed fixation on tiny dwellings. The New York Times called cabins the new American dream, while in the Philippines, the real estate industry is churning out more small, high-end homes within the city. Described as anything below 500 square meters, these quasi-Hobbit houses free owners of the stress of modern-day living: they’re inexpensive, easy to maintain, and highly environmentally sustainable.

With urbanites dog-tired of overstimulation from the city, tiny houses enforce the immediate downsizing of clothes and household items, symbolically stripping existence down to the bare essentials. For hoarders, or for any of those who’ve stored their pasts in piling boxes in the basement, living in a tiny house calls for cathartic decluttering. Research has looked into hoarding as a psychiatric disorder, possibly a symptom of larger problems like obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, or even dementia. Living in a tiny house, then, provides a reprieve for its owners wading in the wilderness of physical and emotional clutter, like Snow White finding refuge in a dwarf-house amid the forest.

“A tiny house [also] leaves a lighter carbon footprint, and so homeowners feel they are making a positive contribution to the world,” says environmental psychologist Sally Augustin, as quoted in Live Science. Saving the world inside their homes is always, of course, convenient and satisfying.

What is arguably the greatest mental benefit of living in a tiny house is how it gives its owners the feeling of control, freedom, and mobility. “[It’s] a relatively low-commitment venture that can be easily sold or rented,” says environmental psychologist and architect Dak Kopec in Live Science. Where homeowners feel the need to move from city to city pursuing career goals, it makes them feel that, ultimately, they’re not tied down to a single place.

Yet notwithstanding the many perks embedded in the fantasy of tiny living, psychologist Susan Saegert asserts that tiny houses may induce crowding-related stress, and may not be as ideal for those in their 30s and 40s who are building a family. “I’ve studied children in crowded apartments and low-income housing a lot,” says Saegert. “They can end up being withdrawn, and have trouble studying and concentrating.” Miniature dwellings may indeed evoke and actualize the carefree days of playing in a tree house, but the reality is that some of us eventually grow too big to fit the picture.

TAGS: homemaking nolisoliph psychology small house Susan Saegert