On that note, I was recently invited to be a contributing writer on the new online information hub for all things tiny (resources, information, inspiration, connection, etc.) TinyHomes.com. Thank you, Lina Menard and Kenny Bavoso for your hard work and your faith in me. O Muse of Writers Practice, don't fail me now! As if on cue, after struggling a couple of hours to write the first two lines of this post, a mantle of clouds moved in, filtering a pale wash of light into the afternoon that took a bit longer to filter through the writers block in my brain. I am happy to report the eventual sun-breakthrough I needed, resulting in my first submission. Although you can read it here, I would encourage you to check out the other articles and information that will be rolling into TinyHomes.com. Now, without further ado...
Since my tiny venture began, I have engaged in numerous conversations over the uncertainties and illegalities of securing park/live sites for wee houses. Allan Cerf’s article, A Cautionary Tale on Tiny Houses (Cerf 2013), fairly comprehensively covers the quandaries faced by law-abiding citizens with whom the ethos (small, affordable, eco-friendly, unfettered…) resonates powerfully and who, enthusiastically, begin to dream in tiny/mobile only to become nearly mummified in the red tape of codes, regulations, reasoning that inhibit legal habitation of said dream on any fixed location for any significant period of time due to neighboring property devaluation, waste water management, city-legit water/electrical hook-ups, skeptical or hardline officials... The list dickers almost insurmountably on. The concerns are real. Are we doomed to steal like mice along the toe-kicks of civil society, hiding in nooks and crannies, relocating under cover of night, thumbing our noses at establishment and authority, never quite secure in our moorings simply in order to exist? The question of sanction and how to secure it is big.
A respected boss/mentor once imparted, “sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness, rather than permission.” The context of the particular conversation is lost to me. Admittedly, the premise contains potential for abuse, but the message lingered. Through my twenties and thirties, I moved from place to place, navigating the financial whims of rental markets, observing ever-rising mortgage costs, weighing the latter against my salary and the 40+ hour work week, ad infinitum, that home ownership would seemingly require. Many did invest in mortgages, secure in the idea of ever-increasing home values, until 2008… Discouraged well before the crash, I took up residence in a tool shed on Whidbey Island to clear my head and met a friend who broached the idea of tiny wheely houses (see Tiny Origins page for full story). My mentor’s message rang with sudden crystal relevance. I was not a landowner. Furthermore, in a time of exploding population and finite land resources, competition dictates that not everyone can (or should) own land, though the need for housing explodes with the population, while increasingly expensive ‘cubicles’ of mass housing for rent proliferate. If there’s an alternative model for homeownership that encourages moderate consumption, sharing of resources, cooperation, community, new ways of thinking should it be dismissed outright for rules written in absence of good examples? Might the rules merit re-examination? Enter, the convoy of tiny houses and their trailored existential angst…
A new friend building tiny on the Island recently called me gripped in a moment of such angst after an unknown individual had showed up snapping pictures of the build site without permission. “Am I crazy? Are we in over our heads? Are we going to be evicted? I may have been over-ambitious…” Though I fall short of answering his questions, I wish him comfort in the burgeoning numbers of tiny homeowner blogs and builders and the increasingly audacious visibility of both (magazine features, news spots, films). As the adage goes, there is strength in numbers. So, what are we up against, really?
Throughout history, creative proposals and solutions to problems have been discouraged against the established ‘Ways’ of particular times and contexts. Built to weather instability, these mechanisms often, resist change, though not necessarily out of malice. As Cerf (2013) notes, many officials amiably discuss the topic with blunt skepticism. Such skepticism is the not uncommon companion of unfamiliar concepts. Even so, requesting mere consideration of our tiny proposal can feel a bit like asking a charging pachyderm to pivot on a dime (an admittedly outsized metaphor). Not gonna happen.
But wait! The pachyderm, in fact, roughly the size of a tiny house, has been around a while to achieve his immense stature. He has a long memory built from experience; knows a few things about his world; and, some say, possesses capacity for relationship, even affection. What if we parked the tiny house a mile or two down the line of charge, within sight; give the pachyderm time to react, consider, begin to slow or arc his trajectory? Furthermore, might the owner of the tiny house, wheels chocked uneasily in the line of rampage, on second glance, note that the elephant appears less at ‘angry charge’ than ‘determined gallop’; reassess the level of threat; consider inviting him over for a bucket of peanut butter, neighborly introductions and curious discussion? To be sure, there is a risk involved, but for all of the skeptical city/county officials who tolerate quasi-legal tiny houses within their jurisdiction (para. Cerf 2013), proliferating conversations among such officials, sometimes crossing into dialogue with tiny housers, themselves, resulting in such anomalies as the recently city-sanctioned, Caravan Tiny House Hotel (Portland, OR) seem, to me, to suggest a growing awareness, if not early signs of acceptance? Make no mistake. We have come far.
Poet/essayist/environmentalist, Wendell Berry, in a televised interview with Bill Moyers (Moyers 2013) musing on leadership from the bottom said, “[T]he country and I think… the world are full of people, now, who are… seeing something that needs to be done and starting to do it without the government’s permission or official advice or expert advice or applying for grants or anything else. They just start doing it.” He could be speaking directly to the tiny house movement. For many years, tiny houses have favored the shadow of peripheries, but the ground has been broken. Our early leaders began generations ago (read The Small House Movement in a Nutshell, by Jay Shafer), imagined an alternative, took risks. Their examples inspire and encourage the next wave of tiny builders, first, to follow, then to lead the next. We have grown in numbers and confidence, and there comes a time to step into the public forum with our vulnerability; submit ourselves to essential examination and critique; encourage debate, not for the sake of insurgency, but because we believe in what we’re building. There is much to learn on on both sides of the long journey home.