Perspectives: Tiny houses, how our stuff owns us

OPINION – Is it possible to live well with less?

That’s a question many of us may find difficult to answer without some serious contemplation.

I first heard the term “minimalism” nearly 20 years ago when my sister informed me that her friend Courtney was selling off most of her material possessions.

Courtney was a successful and well-compensated school administrator who could afford just about whatever she wanted. Instead, she chose to become a minimalist in order to simplify her life.

This gave her time to travel, to grow and to experience life on her own terms.

Getting rid of superfluous things that were cluttering up her life created space for more important things like personal freedom.

Naturally, this flew in the face of most of what I believed about material success.

At the time, I was entering my own upwardly mobile phase. I was still deeply entrenched in the mindset of how acquiring bigger and better material goods was the only sure measure of success.

Most of us have felt pressure at some point to obtain the material trappings of success that outwardly proclaim how well we’re doing. But keeping up with everyone else can carry some unexpected price tags.

It wasn’t until years later that I began to understand what people meant when they spoke of “being owned by our things” rather than the other way around. There comes a point where simply acquiring more things cannot bring satisfaction.

The stress of keeping up appearances to impress people we don’t even know has prompted some individuals to reconsider their roles as mindless consumers.

For instance, in the past 15 years or so, a phenomenon known as “down-shifting” has been taking place. This is where a person — typically living within an urban area — chooses to step away from a comfortable six-figure lifestyle and relocate to a more rural setting.

Down-shifters will often purchase a smaller home with a bit of land and begin producing more of their own food and keeping smaller livestock.

They’re willing to accept less material success than they “deserve” in exchange for a peace of mind and freedom that could not be found in materialism alone.

Southern Utah has been a popular destination for many of these down-shifters.

The idea here isn’t that money is bad or material things are evil. It’s an acknowledgement that stuff is not enough to give purpose to our lives.

Too much focus on acquiring material things transforms us into a slightly more well-adjusted version of Gollum whenever we start obsessing over whatever constitutes our latest version of “precious.”

A desire to avoid the chains of debt can also provide the necessary perspective to choose to live beneath our means and stop worrying about how others may see us.

The tiny house movement has become a growing migration away from the “more is better” mindset that dominates our culture. People are finding that building tiny houses of roughly 400 square feet or less allows them to focus on the relationships, passions and communities they value most.

Many of these tiny homes are mounted on trailers and therefore are mobile.

Instead of wearing themselves out keeping up with mortgages, home and yard maintenance and the clutter of accumulating stuff, they make room for what’s really important.

Living well on less allows tiny house owners to drastically reduce their expenses. This, in turn, creates greater personal independence.

As might be expected, any desire to live our lives on our own terms is a dog whistle to those with a controlling nature. How dare someone live more independently on their own terms?

HUD has just proposed a regulatory rule that could effectively classify tiny homes along with recreational vehicles as “not suitable for a primary residence or permanent dwelling.”

Onerous as increased federal regulation might be, it’s local zoning ordinances that are most likely to be used as a weapon against this type of alternative architecture.

Why the perceived need to rein in tiny home dwellers?

The standard trope about regulating tiny houses in the name of “public safety” codes is wearing thin. A more likely explanation would be the desire for revenue and control.

Between their potential mobile status and minimal footprint, tiny homes may be a way to reduce one’s property tax liability. Seriously, are we supposed to feel bad for owing less taxes?

As more people seek ways to reduce expenses and consider apostatizing from our cultural religion of materialism, this will be an issue worth following.

In the meantime, spring cleaning is providing us with a timely opportunity to evaluate which is worth more to us.

I’m leaning towards less stuff and more freedom.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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9 Comments

  • laytonian April 11, 2016 at 11:21 am

    Your “stuff” and your “McMansion” is a symbol of success at your Utah MLM/”miracle juice” scheme. You just have bigger furniture, a cheap $29 gigantic clock on the wall, and Pinterest-level decor.

    Some of us were smarter and never UPgraded. Now we don’t have to “down-shift”. We’ve lived debt-free and now have more assets than most. Without living in the Utah get-rich-quick culture.

    • RealMcCoy April 12, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      “Your “stuff” and your “McMansion” is a symbol of success at your Utah MLM/”miracle juice” scheme. You just have bigger furniture, a cheap $29 gigantic clock on the wall, and Pinterest-level decor.”

      Ahahahahaha! You nailed it right there!

      • .... April 13, 2016 at 12:05 am

        Wow you actually made a comment and acted like a decent human being. …absolutely amazing HAVE a nice day

  • Roy J April 11, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    I would think it is neither the size nor the type of your property, but how you use it. Way I remember Kenneth Grahame’s book, Mr. Toad could no more well use a tricked-out gypsy cart than he could the magnificent pile left to him by his ancestors.

    • voice of reason April 12, 2016 at 6:40 am

      Stop expecting Bryan to know the facts before he posts his God given opinion.

  • DB April 11, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    I’m fortunate enough to be able to AFFORD many ‘things’ in life but very few I can JUSTIFY. If I want something that I would rarely use, I can rent it instead. That goes for condos, 4x4s, etc. It’s much simpler.

  • Carol April 12, 2016 at 6:00 am

    “Minimalist” and tiny house dwellers are not necessarily the same. Most of them just want to be free of the responsibilities of a house so they can pursue their own pleasures, not for the lofty ideals mentioned in your article. How you live is not determined by the size of house you have. I have lived in tiny houses, AKA 200 sq foot cabin, 30 ” RV for a lot of years.

  • Common Sense April 12, 2016 at 7:08 am

    Okay, so you have a tiny house. Now what?

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