Enjoying Control Over Design
Over the last eighteen months, I have spoken with over 35 women who have designed their own tiny houses. These women are always fascinating, and each one of them shares common strands with the stories of the others, despite being very different people.
Every woman has shared stories about what it meant to them to be able to have control over their home. For some women it was the very first time in their lives that they had enjoyed autonomy over their living space.
For many of the women, it was the design process itself that they so enjoyed; how long, how wide, how many light fixtures and of which kind, what cabinets, how many draws etc.
For others, it was the physical building of their home that they relished. They loved hauling massive timbers around, learning how to make stud walls, wiring the house, becoming plumbers; in short, learning to do whatever was required.
Some of the women also spoke about the unique comfort and pleasure of being in control of who and what comes into their tiny house. This is something I explored in my TedX talk in 2020.
Autonomy Brings Peace
Control in the tiny house was often related to a greater sense of control in their lives more broadly, often using the language of being ‘deliberate’, ‘mindful’, and ‘conscious’. Below, Anna, 33, USA, summaries her feelings in this regard:
“It brought all of my values into alignment. I wanted, you know, a reduced carbon footprint, I wanted to spend my life doing rather than having, I wanted a space that was aesthetically beautiful, I wanted to have a space that I felt like I could stay in control of; like the cleaning wasn’t out of control, repair wasn’t gonna bankrupt me. So it just took all of those values and brought them into one.”
Anna goes on to give more detail about the psychological impact of finally living in a way that aligned with all of her values and gave her a sense of control over her life:
“Also, the sense of peace and well-being, I just, I didn’t think it was a thing. The level of just… whenever I go back to the tiny house I just sit on the couch and the first thing I do is just cry. I just cry my eyes out because I am just so incredibly grateful that…Um, it feels like this secret that people don’t know about. I’m like, if only you knew you would change your life radically and today if you understood that this level of peace exists.”
If I Can Build My Home, I Can Do Anything
Similarly, Kerrie, 41, USA, shared a really sweet and energising story about the psychological impacts of having been in control of her tiny house design and build:
“I built my whole house myself, and just the other day I decided I want to put in an electrical outlet. And I haven’t done it yet but I know I can because I know where the electricity is, you know? I know how to do all of that. I’ve realized a huge dream. I can do whatever I want! I built a house right? So, within the last two three months , I’ve started to ask okay what’s next? What is the next big project that I want to work on? And I’ve got a few ideas going, and it has kind of shaped that I built my house. I can decide what I want to do next and I can make that happen.”
I Don’t Have To Worry Any More
Several women spoke about the pleasure and enjoyment they got from their tiny house because they knew they would be able to maintain their homes and fix anything that went wrong. They spoke about the confidence and high self esteem this gave them, just like Kerrie described above.
Here, Cherie, 44, Portugal, got quite emotional whilst describing her feelings of accomplishment about having designed and built her home.
“ I think just knowing that I’m living in a space that I’ve created and it’s just, um, god I feel quite emotional, but it’s because I configured it completely from the ground up, yeah (starts crying). So, I wanted to be quite self-sufficient in knowing that if something goes wrong with my house. I’ve literally built it. I saw it, I can probably fix it.”
How Does Controlling Our Environment Lead To Health?
Previous studies in areas like exercise psychology and workplace studies suggest that increasing perceived control over ourselves is associated with higher mental health and overall wellbeing.
For example, exercising reinforces the idea that we can take actions and achieve our goals. Similarly, the now infamous Whitehall study demonstrated that those employees with the least amount of control over their work environment and tasks were the most likely to report stress and poor health.
It is plausible that related mechanisms are at work in the case of women building their own tiny houses. By making decisions and causing physical outcomes in their own homes, women proved that they had skills, determination, and an ability to make things happen in their lives rather than being passive to their circumstances.