TINY: A Story About Living Small

A new film explores the lives of American families that have downsized to 400 square feet or less.

I sent my partner, Christopher, a text one frigid day last February asking a simple question: “What are you doing?”

Christopher replied he was “just working,” then, “Might go up to the mountains.”

When he finally told me what he’d really been up to – that he’d skipped work and called a mountain real estate agent on a whim, and put down an offer on a five-acre plot of land, I didn’t have to ask why or what he was planning to do next.

I knew what this land was slated for: a tiny 130-foot cabin in the mountains, built from scratch, with his own two hands. He’d been scheming and dreaming about it for years, and I matched his brainchild with one of my own.

“Great,” I said, “Let’s make a documentary film about it.”

The result is “TINY: A Story About Living Small.” It follows Christopher’s story of building his own tiny house from scratch with no construction experience and explores the lives of other families around America who have downsized their lives into less than 400 square feet.

As we’ve both grown into our “adult” lives, we’ve become more interested in sustainability both environmental and financial. Since 1970, the average house size in America has almost doubled. The result from this home growth means many things: we consume more resources, we use more energy for this new-found square footage, we spend more time maintaining it and consequently more money on mortgage payments.

As the skeleton of our own tiny walls rose up, we started to ask: Does all that extra space really make people feel at home? For our own sake we wondered, what is it that does make a home, a home?

I’ve come to realize that a home is made up in the small, strong details that give a building character, the way structures surrounding us shape our lives and our needs and ideas about what’s possible as we grow into them.

We live tiny and I get that 130-square-feet isn’t for everyone. Honestly I’m still trying to figure out whether it’s for me. But one thing’s for sure: minimal space inspires innovative design, and paring down possessions frees up time and money to devote to other, more expansive intellectual and aesthetic pursuits.

Whether or not the film convinces us all to go tiny, we’re capturing some heartfelt questions and creative ideas that can be applied to any lifestyle, no matter the square footage.

After all, Christopher’s house is as much about the kind of life that we want to build, as it is about the (tiny) house that will contain it.

Author Merete Mueller’s documentary is now a Kickstarter campaign. To contribute from now until December 15, visit their Kickstarter page. She’ll be sharing more adventures from her TINY life over the next month.