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(Don’t) Supersize Me

May 24, 2012

We’re America, so bigger is better. Except when it’s not, like when it drives up our carbon footprint and consumption without really making us any happier.

YES magazine has some telling charts on the growth of home sizes in the United States.

The biggest appeal to me of downsizing is that it requires getting rid of all the stuff your family accumulates because you have space to accumulate.

Anyhow, here is the extreme counterpoint to the McMansion revolution in America: a tiny house:

In 2004, Williams sold her bungalow, shedding a mortgage payment of over $1,000 per month, and bought plans for an 84-square-foot house on wheels. It cost her $10,000 to build, a quarter of which went for photovoltaic panels that generate her electricity. Now her house is paid for, and her monthly bills total about $8—for heating.

Even with the economic freedom she gained, it wasn’t easy to leave her house. “I loved my house and I liked my community in Portland.” And she knew that day-to-day life in the tiny house would be very different. “I’m going to have to carry water, I’m going to have to deal with my compost toilet, find a place to shower.”

“It was scary,” she admits. “But I also felt like, God! This is so cool!”

Leaving her stuff behind was not that hard for Williams. It was liberating. She got rid of photos, old love letters, her college letter jacket—“all that crap that you have because it reminds you of who you used to be.” Her friends and family have quit giving her things for Christmas, she says, “unless I get some kind of, you know, short fork!” She allows herself to own no more than 300 items, and she keeps careful count. “Not because I have obsessive-compulsive disorder,” she laughs, but because she once bet a friend that she had less stuff than he did. She’s kept count ever since.

I know my wife and kids could not go that low, but it’s an example of how simplicity can work. And how current assumptions about what we think we need are both out of tune with reality, and way, way, off.

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