Rightsizing Your House

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How much living space do I need?

This week, I discovered a new community of  small, bare-bones cottages here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and it got me thinking about how much space is enough.

A lot of folks are intrigued by the tiny house concept. These cottages probably don’t quite meet the standard for “tiny.” Most are one-bedroom, living room, bath, and galley kitchen. Some have two bedrooms. You can look here for more pictures and floor plans.  The rooms are SMALL, but the Web site doesn’t give dimensions.

I estimate the cottages have about as much space as a small,  one-bedroom garden apartment. No doubt, many people in Manhattan live in high-rise apartments smaller than this. And tiny “alley” rowhouses were once commonplace in Baltimore.

This is no-frills living, but I prefer to think of it as a simple lifestyle. You get a front door, a few small windows, a roof. A small closet, but none of the clever, built-in storage niches you find in custom-built tiny houses. You want amenities? The community has a laundry room with  six washers.

Neighbors on both sides. Togetherness. Community! You’ve got as much space as in a modest trailer park, or less. Looking down a row of cottages, I get a flash of a Depression-era work camp. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Not exactly the splendid privacy that many small-house advocates imagine. But I’ve always wondered if the concept of a 12 X 12 cabin on a remote mountainside isn’t contradictory. Elitist even. I mean, a tiny house with your own, private, national park? It is true that when you opt for simplicity, you may also find grandeur. Monks usually take vows of poverty, but sometimes live in impressive old monasteries.

No grandeur is included with the austere cottages pictured above. Don’t be misled because they’re near a beach resort. These cottages are clearly designed for workers, not tourists.

Rent is $600 a month for the one-bedroom models, plus utilities. A modern water and sewer system is paid for by the owners. Your cable TV bill looks like a BIG EXPENSE, in this scenario, especially if you also want Internet access. I’ve been spoiled by cable TV and Internet the past few years. Wonder if I could do without? Remember, we’re talking about simplicity and frugality. TV and Internet are not necessities, like food and water. Or are they?

I could still write on my computer, just not connected to the Net. When I need the Net, I’d go to the library, and use the fast, free WiFi.

I could listen to FM music or news over FREE airwaves. (Imagine that! Free radio. TV signals used to be free, too, but free TV was too good to last forever.)

Long story short, housing is adapting, if only a little, in response to the crash. Are people choosing a simpler lifestyle? Or in the new normal, do people have no alternative? Time will tell, but I doubt that cottages as small as the ones pictured here will become commonplace in America. Other countries, maybe.

For those who want to reduce their carbon footprint, a small cottage is a big step forward. I’m nagged by one reservation: Beware the fine, thin line between simplicity and poverty. Spacious suburban manses — the ideal goal for many Americans — are clearly not a necessity. Space is a nice luxury, if you can afford it.

But I wonder if tiny houses are more a novelty than a viable alternative? Most folks feel more at ease with a bit of elbow room. Space enough for two people to slow dance, at least. An extremely tiny house could be tough on the spirit, it seems to me.

I’m in favor of living space that is, as Goldilocks put it, “Just right.” It’s an individual thing. Or a matter of negotiation, for a couple. Between huge and tiny, a modest cottage might be a reasonable compromise.

— John Hayden

For photos of my own efficiency apartment, take a look here.

You can learn about the Tiny House Movement at  “How I Met My Tiny House Hero,” by Tammy Strobel.

3 thoughts on “Rightsizing Your House

  1. I think I’d cut my throat before living in a house that I couldn’t turn around in. It’s my introverted temperament. I need a living area big enough to hide some secrets, and space in between me and other people — space that they are legally forbidden to set foot on until I allow it. I don’t want to be able to see the whites of someone else’s eyes, unless I invited them.

    I don’t have to have a lot of luxuries — cable channels, hell, I don’t own a television, or a microwave, or a dishwasher — but I need that buffer space. Maybe there are people who can stand their fellow man enough to live in an itsy space without much property around it, but they would have to be more optimistic about the human race than I am. I realize I pay a premium for this, but the alternative would be a shorter life from the stress of sensing that other people were just too close.


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