Tiny Houses

You’ve heard of this movement no doubt. People who live in perfectly normal housing decide to downsize. For environmental, cultural, political or boredom reasons, they divest themselves of most of their possessions and take up occupation in a home the size of a child’s playhouse. Not kidding. But this is not necessarily the money-saver it sounds like because the best Tiny Houses are constructed with correctly sourced materials and can cost up to $60K. Hmm, that’s a lot for a playhouse, but what the heck do I know?

Um, more than I should. You see, I also dwell in a Tiny House. I don’t subscribe to the movement, I don’t get the monthly magazine, nor do I help others construct their own Tiny Houses. I got here the old-fashioned way—by being poor. I don’t think other Tiny Homers would even accept me in their group—“She has to live in a Tiny Home. It’s not a choice for them…»

My husband was waiting for his green card and I became pregnant, so income was not flowing as it should. Yes, I like money; I just didn’t have any. Enter a small, sort-of-winterized cabin. The kind of place a couple looking for a rustic week in the Adirondacks would consider suitable—for two days, then head to a hotel. Not quite 400 square feet. The storage space of five shoeboxes. A bathroom best not observed at close range. Home. For a few months, I thought. If we get through the winter, nine months max. Ha-ha-ha. It’s been three years now.

We now share our Tiny House with two Tiny Girls. Family and friends have stopped asking when we’re moving. They don’t even register horror (to our faces) anymore.

At first I had a whole spiel: “Oh, it’s cute, the view is nice, we like it for now and are moving out before the baby comes.” Didn’t happen. Then, “Yeah, it’s tight and there are mice, but we save money and we’re moving next month.” Didn’t happen. Then, “If this were Manhattan, we’d say how lucky we are! But we’re definitely buying a place before Number Two arrives—even we are not that crazy!” But apparently we are that crazy. Oh dear.

I hesitate to even make friends with people of Normal House Size. I know on seeing where we live they will instantly recalibrate: “Oh, they seemed kind of normal but they’re not. They’re aliens.” When my pediatrician talks about our “baby’s room” I just nod and smile. Best not to share. (She also thinks we’ve stopped giving a bottle at night, so Shhhh…..)

An old and dear friend wants to visit. She hasn’t been to see me for years, and I don’t want to be unwelcoming, so I just said, “Come anytime,” thinking by then we would have moved. But of course we haven’t moved! Now when she comes, what do I say? If I tell her ahead of time we’ll put her up in a hostel, she may think I’m really saying it’s not a good time. I guess I’ll let her make the call when she sees her “room” (the rug by the door with a sleeping bag), next to my husband’s room (the rug by the bed with a sleeping bag), next to my room—the bed with two baby girls.

I sometimes wonder if I’m crazy but don’t know it because I’m coping well. Or maybe I’m not actually mentally unstable but, given our choices, dealing with this situation as well as possible (something I don’t usually accuse myself of). After all, if I got a full-time job and put the girls in daycare, we could squeak into normal housing. I could then double my stress in a nicer place. Should I?

When I look back on this time I’ll know if I made the right choice—assuming we ever get to Look Back. (“Oh, we’re definitely moving this month!”) But right now, I don’t know the answer…A lovely sounding person, a Real Tiny Houser who knows what the movement is actually about, placed this ad (offer? plea?) in our town’s online forum:

“Looking for Kindred Souls Who Dream About Tiny Houses.”

I would love to connect with local folks interested in Tiny Houses and Living Off Grid-ish. I’m looking to connect with folks who have visions of a different way of living, folks who have building experience and would be up for some community building projects, folks who have tools, folks who have land who would be open to having a Tiny House on wheels parked on their land, folks who are open to creative ways of sharing space and land, creating a movement, being the change…

So, yeah. I don’t think I’m the “folks” she’s looking for. I’m not that committed to the movement, I’m afraid. I’m not a Tiny Houser—I just live in one.

Catherine Ahlawat

About Catherine Ahlawat

I grew up in Maine, am a teacher and an actor and have lived in New York, California, Vermont, and Italy (where I met my husband, who is from India). We were married in his hometown, and naively thought the cultural differences wouldn't be that big a deal. (!) I write about my experiences as a mom, as well as about what it has been like to bridge such a great cultural divide in our marriage.