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Tiny Houses: Would You Live in Less Than 140 Square Feet?

When Jay Shafer first started building the little houses that would evolve into his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, he didn’t know that he would be at the forefront of a national trend toward small homes. He simply wanted to have less impact on the environment, and to “do away with unwanted space.”

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Tumbleweed tiny house

This Tumbleweed home is just big enough to fit a small kitchen, bathroom, living room, and loft bedroom. Image: Tumbleweed Tiny House Company/photo by Jack Journey

When Jay Shafer first started building the little houses that would evolve into his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, he didn’t know that he would be at the forefront of a national trend toward small homes. He simply wanted to have less impact on the environment, and to “do away with unwanted space.”

The result was a diminutive, Victorian-esque sneeze of a house with just 89 square feet of living area — enough to squeeze in a small kitchen, bathroom, and living room. A loft area accommodates the bedroom and helps get the most out of the square footage.

Although Shafer’s design portfolio now includes cottages that are a relatively gargantuan 700 square feet, his work on tiny houses inspired other small house designers. Check out our slideshow “Tiny Houses: Which One Would You Live In?” for a look at some of these ingenious, well-designed tiny homes.

At first glance, Tumbleweed — and other small house companies — seem to occupy an extreme far end of the housing spectrum, appealing to environmentalists wanting to minimize their carbon footprints, and to determined hermits. (BTW, Henry David Thoreau’s cabin by Walden Pond was a mere 150 square feet.)

Yet the small house movement has coincided with an economic reality that has shifted Americans’ housing priorities toward smaller, easier-to-maintain homes that use less energy to heat and cool, are cheaper to build, and — of necessity — are designed to maximize your storage space.

Greg Johnson — who along with Jay Shafer founded the Small House Society — lived in a Shafer-designed home that would lead him to write a book, Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned from Living in 140 Square Feet.

For Johnson, however, size is relative. As he says on the Small House Society website, his intent is to promote a discussion “about the ecological, economic, and psychological toll that excessive housing takes on our lives, and what some of us are doing to live better. It’s not a movement about people claiming to be ‘tinier than thou,’ but rather people making their own choices toward simpler and smaller living however they feel best fits their life.”

Would you live in a tiny house? What’s the smallest amount of square footage you and your family would need to get by comfortably?

John_Riha John Riha

has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

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