At least once a week, someone squeals to me that they love tiny homes. There are a lot of tiny home fans out there, along with tiny house television shows (none of which I’ve watched), movies and blogs. The zeitgeist is here.
Which is why over 10,000 people registered for the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs over the weekend, coming from all fifty states and ten countries. Featuring some of the founders of the tiny-house movement – Jay Schaeffer (Four Lights) and Derek “Deek” Diedricksen — as well as 21 builders and a bona fide gypsy wagon, the event was geared towards people considering building a tiny home...and building community amongst people who already have.
Community seems to be what a lot of tiny housers are looking for. The very notion of a mobile house would seem to negate the standard form of community – neighbors with whom you talk over the fence, for example. When Philip Spangler and I first started building, many of our long conversations focused on this: His reason for never seeing himself in a tiny house was that community is too important to him. Of course, someone can just park a tiny home, and more and more people are talking about tiny-house villages and communities — but to me, one of the exciting aspects of living in the tiny home is the community engagement it opens up.
Where is my community? For the majority of my life it has been in Denver, a community I have invested in deeply over the years and worked hard to bolster. Denver’s art community, specifically, has been my home, but it has changed a lot over the years, and now with the influx of new residents to Denver and the resulting pressures on artists, it promises to change, or even dissipate, even more.
In fact, this is only an intensification of something I have experienced my entire adult life: people leaving Denver, people coming back to Denver, and my feelings about it waxing and waning accordingly. Denver hasn’t been a place where artists “make it," so they often go in search of career opportunities that don’t exist here. And though I have frequently felt that pull myself, my family has kept me here: Like it or not, this is home.
My other physical communities are New York City, where I have spent most of my time when I wasn’t here, and Columbus, Ohio, where I did my graduate studies. And still another community exists for me, as well as many others, online. Is community organized by geography or interests? Is home where your community is? Your family? Your residence? Your heart?
I have thought a lot about where I belong, and the conclusion I've come to is...everywhere. Denver is my home base, certainly, and I will fight to stay no matter how much I feel I am being forcibly ejected. But my real community is a diaspora, across the entire country and even outside of it. Our community is everywhere these days.
As I sat like a wallflower watching the speakers at the Jamboree (which is pretty much the same thing I like to do at parties), I pondered who the other people were and why they were here…the people sitting next to me who drove from Ohio, the mother talking about how she and her husband were building her daughter a tiny house, the daughter excitedly heading to the front of the stage for a giveaway. The dude in a fire-printed Hawaiian shirt who invented an ingenious heating/cooking system. People with dogs, people looking to hook up with other people in a similar lifestyle, but mostly, people looking for another way to live. Something simpler, cheaper, more mobile…do-able. A lot of young couples, and a lot of empty nesters. A lot of people I imagine who, like me, feel they have little other choice. A tiny house is a good way to take control of one’s destiny.
But it isn’t easy, and it isn’t all that do-able for many. One of the major hurdles is that you can’t get a mortgage to build a tiny home, though Tumbleweed was advertising at the Jamboree that it could offer a monthly payment plan, something that might make it much more acceptable. And the fact is, though the Internet is awash with stories that say “They built this tiny house for $20,000,” that isn’t accurate or realistic, as everyone always learns.
The average tiny home for sale at the Jamboree ran about $60,000, move-in ready. For a house, that isn’t much, especially in a place like Denver. And the lines at each house open for touring stretched out across the grass in the hot sun, with easily forty-minute waits. Since I can walk in a tiny house every day, I opted out of the wait, though I felt a pang of longing to tour hOMe by EcoCabins, the one that probably most influenced my own design, especially the stairs.
The tiny house people, though lovely, are not my community. They are enthusiasts to be sure, and I know they will support me and cheer me on…but they already know the message I am hoping to communicate. And I don’t wish to preach to the converted. The urgency I feel to change the conversation hasn’t diminished, but I am sure it is shared by many in the tiny-house movement. Living lightly upon the earth drives many of us.
Nor, however, do I wish to preach the gospel of the tiny house as the solution for all. Rather, I see my tiny house as one option, and a way to show off sustainable systems and talk about what it means to live sustainably. To talk about the struggle of it as well: It is easy for no one, but it isn’t impossible — and that is what I hope to show.
So where do I belong? Where will home be, once it’s on wheels? I don’t have an answer. But everything seems possible, and that’s a good place to start.
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Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here or here. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.